– … Gateway bank was very significant to us on a number of levels. He opened his first business a few blocks away from Gateway on Union Boulevard, and at that time in the 60’s when Gateway was created, it was a symbol to the community of African-American empowerment, of financial investment, and for people to have pride and dignity in their community. And it remained that way all the way up until its closing. So, his involvement, and his work, really was a testimony, not only to him, but all of the other co-founders, and the investors and supporters of the bank, the entire time that it was open.
– [Interviewer] Did you personally spend much time there growing up?
– Absolutely. I was an account holder at Gateway and enjoyed being a customer for many, many years.
– [Interviewer] What about prior to that? What about your youth?
– I definitely was there as a youth as well. My cousin Lisa took me there on a number of occasions, and it was a place where you could go and feel some pride and dignity about African-American advancement in St. Louis.
– [Interviewer] What was the atmosphere like as a kid?
– It was a very open and welcoming environment, even for someone such as myself who, of course as a child, did not have an account, but it was some place that you could go and people were very friendly, they were very courteous, they were very kind, and on top of that, it was some place that was very inspiring because you could see African-Americans in charge of a major institution in the community.
– [Interviewer] And I guess that’s what I’m getting to. Was there a sense that there was something special going on there?
– Oh, absolutely. With this being the only black-owned bank in the state of Missouri, it was definitely a sense of pride and dignity that we all had in terms of going there, meeting with the staff, meeting with the customers, the environment in the lobby, just seeing so many people come through the doors. You would see doctors, lawyers, teachers, educators, principals, so many leaders in the community who had pride and put all of their own personal financial investments in the bank as well.
– [Interviewer] And what about later? That was your youth, but later you mentioned working there later on. Did that feeling, did that sense change as you grew up and became an adult and…
– No. Not at all. I enjoyed being a personal customer of the bank, and that same feeling of pride and dignity remained the entire time that I was a customer.
– [Interviewer] Going back to the days when you were a kid, and you know, spent some time there … Talk to me about the individuals that you met there, and who worked there.
– Donnell Reed, Aaron Phillips, Tad Buford, and so many others. It was really something significant when you would see the president of Gateway come downstairs into the lobby to meet and greet the customers and talk to people and make sure that he interacted with the staff and the community. So it was something that we took great pride in.
– [Interviewer] Sounds like a kind of a … … a gathering place, if you will.
– It was. It was almost like a cocktail party, especially on Friday afternoons when people would come by with their paychecks, before the bank closed. It was a great, welcoming environment, and one that people got a chance to interact with each other and catch up with old friends.
– [Interviewer] All right, Mr. McMillan, how did you feel when you heard the bank was closing?
– Well obviously the banking industry had been through quite a lot in 2008, 2009, and to actually have a small community bank such as Gateway that had been so supportive of so many people who really, in many cases, might not have had the chance to get a loan from anyone else, you knew that the bank had some potential issues when the entire industry was in trouble, and finding out that it eventually was going to close of course was very, very disappointing because not only would the community lose a significant asset, all of the investors lost their funds of course, and it was sad because you lost an institution that was providing people that might not have had a chance to interact with a bank, the opportunity to do so.
– [Interviewer] Had you heard of St. Louis Community Credit Union?
– Of course. St. Louis Community Credit Union has an excellent reputation. They’re very involved in the community. They too work to make sure that people that normally don’t have access to loans and economic opportunity get that opportunity on a regular basis.
– [Interviewer] That sounds kind of like-minded.
– It’s a perfect segue from Gateway National Bank to the Credit Union because they have the same mission, they serve most of the same people, the Credit Union obviously has a bigger scope because they have more locations and more capacity, but when you look at their core mission, it is a perfect combination, and it’s a perfect segue into the future for the Credit Union to open this new branch and name it a Gateway branch.
– [Interviewer] That must be a bit reassuring to you.
– Oh, absolutely. What it does is it keeps a historic, iconic institution alive in the form of the name right there at that location and in that particular community that, quite frankly, is underbanked.
– [Interviewer] The Credit Union has decided to pay tribute to Gateway Bank, as you said, by having its newest location bear the Gateway name. What do you think about that?
– Oh, I’m excited about that. I’m very grateful to the Credit Union. They continue to impress me with all of their commitment to the community, their desire to give back. We at the Urban League partner with them on our back to school program with the St. Louis Public Schools and a number of other financial literacy and empowerment initatives throughout the region.
– [Interviewer] Mr. McMillan, what does St. Louis Community Credit Union’s presence mean to the community with its investment in Gateway Bank?
– Well, what it does is it takes an area that you now have an abandoned building, and you take and invest millions of dollars in the facility, you create jobs, and then you give economic opportunity to the residents in that area that might not have the accessibility or the transportation to get to other parts of town to actually have the banking opportunities that they need to be successful in their own lives. So them investing right there is very significant and will really be a testimony not only to the history of Gateway Bank but also what the Credit Union is doing going forward.