Terry Jorde of the Independent Community Bankers of America, and her husband Mike, participated in the 50th annual convention of the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota, conducted last week in Alexandria, Minn. Terry addressed the bankers on Saturday morning, a day that happened to be Mike and Terry’s 33rd wedding anniversary. Before Terry got into the details of ICBA’s latest legislative efforts, she shared a little about her personal background and how she came to be such a passionate advocate for community banking. Following are excerpts of her story, in her own words:
Back in 1962, I was just a toddler living with my parents in Pennsylvania. We moved to Minneapolis when I was in grade school, and then my dad was transferred to Chicago when I was in high school. I had no plan to be a banker, let alone a community banker. My plan was to be a doctor. It wasn’t until my junior year at the University of Illinois when I decided I had had quite enough organic chemistry and calculus, and that I decided I was going to switch my major to finance. I don’t really know why I decided on finance, but I conjured up this plan that I was going to live on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, live in one of those high rise condominiums, and work at Continental Illinois because Continental had just been named one of the five best managed companies in the United States. That was just before they went on to become one of the biggest bailouts in U.S. history. I could see my name on my office door of my high rise, skyscraper bank building, clearly as I am looking at you today. That was my plan and I was pretty excited about it.
It might have gone that way had it not been for ladies night at the Rueb-N-Stein Bar in Northfield, Minn., where I met my husband-to-be at St. Olaf’s, which is where my best friend went to school. Of course, Mike waited until we were madly in love before he decided to tell me that his plan was to return home to North Dakota to take over the family potato farm.
I have to admit that I was a bit tentative about moving from the suburbs of Chicago to this farming town where the water tower reads: “You can do better in Cando.” Cando’s population was exactly half the size of my high school, and the nearest shopping mall was in Grand Forks, a two-hour drive away. I knew nothing about farming. I guess I had this vague notion that potatoes grew underground. I remember the first time Mike brought them home for dinner, I was just surprised how dirty they were. We go married 33 years ago today. It was in Minnesota and it was on a Saturday morning.
And I got a job at the local bank as a teller. I remember in those early days wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. My starting wage was $3 per hour, which was just a little less than I had envisioned. And I prayed that my friends would not come and visit me because they were all working at these really big companies like AT&T and IBM. And I was just jealous of their big city life because I was sure they were achieving all of this success, and that there was no opportunity for me to find a good career out in this little town out in the sticks.
But it didn’t take me long to realize there were wonderful opportunities in this community that had adopted me – opportunities I never would have found on Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive. Because the fact is in rural communities like North Dakota and South Dakota and Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana, we not only have the opportunity to get involved, we have the obligation. It is up to us, we have no choice. We control our destiny. And as a result we are sometimes forced outside of our comfort zone and into a leadership role even before we think we are ready.
I learned this back in 1990 at the age of 32. I had been at the bank for 11 years. We were on the heels of an agricultural crisis. I was six months pregnant. And the president of our bank decided he was going to take a job at a larger bank in Fargo. So the board asked me to step in and serve as president and chief executive officer. It was a tremendous leap of faith for them. The change in top management triggered a surprise FDIC exam, just two weeks after I gave birth, eliminating any plan I might have had for a maternity leave. And there was no question about it; I was way outside my comfort zone… but what an opportunity to grow and learn, one that I never would have had at Continental Illinois.
And while all of this was happening, something else was also going on in my head. I was becoming very defensive of this little town that I had moved to. I was in awe of the perseverance of my board of directors who taught me there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish if we just got focused. None of my board members worked in the bank. They were farmers and electricians and small business owners, but they helped me to understand something that was already becoming very clear to me. My bank was critical to the survival of this town, that I now call home, and my bank depended upon the very existence and support of my community for its success. And in my science classes I remembered they called that a symbiotic relationship.
So as a young banker I became very passionate about community banking. And I decided that I needed to get involved. Back in the ag crisis, our industry was consolidating rapidly and I knew if we didn’t do something, it would be a great loss for towns like ours to lose their local bank. So I got active in my state association, ICBND, and I got active in my national association, the Independent Community Bankers of America. I had the opportunity to go before Congress on numerous occasions and testify to try to explain to them what the real world looks like from main street, not Wall Street.
For more coverage from the ICBM convention, watch for the Sept. 1 edition of NorthWestern Financial Review magazine.