Thomas L. Mines Interview

View Thomas L. Mines Video Transcript

– [Interviewer] Mines, now when you started out at Gateway as a teller, is that right?

– That is correct.

– [Interviewer] Okay, when?

– 1968.

– [Interviewer] I see, and you went on to become, you had bigger and better job titles.

– Well, I became head teller probably about two years after that. And then became a loan officer, and my last position was collection manager for the bank.

– [Interviewer] And you started when?

– 1968.

– [Interviewer] And, how long was your tenure there?

– About seven years.

– Seven years. Okay. So you progressed steadily during that time–

– Yes, I did.

– [Interviewer] Okay. How do you account for that, Mr. Mines?

– Well, it didn’t hurt that the executive vice president of the bank was a fraternity brother. But more importantly, I had a very good interview with the gentleman who was in charge of the loan department at the time that I applied for a loan. And he asked me if I would consider a job at the bank, and at that time I said yes, and I had a interview with the executive vice president, Ilon Owen Funderburg, took an exam that very day and I was hired.

– [Interviewer] Why did you apply there initially?

– I wanted to borrow money to go to school. I had just completed three years of service in the US Army. I was 20 years of age when I completed the service, and I needed money for college. Even though I was gonna apply for the GI loan, still needed money for college. So I applied for a loan at the bank.

– [Interviewer] Well, Mr Mines, what are some of your memories about your experience at Gateway Bank? Do you have a particular story or two that you can share with us?

– Probably the most important experience I had was when I was a loan officer. That’s when I got a chance to really help people to get money for their businesses, as well as their personal use. One story in particular was, a business, it was a cleaning business. And I found out that in the months of course of the fall and winter, that was the best time for a cleaning business, and in the summer and spring, it was not. So I set up what is called a demand loan, that allowed the owner to borrow money, pay the principal and the interest during the fall and winter, and pay just the interest during the summer. And that was kind of revolutionary for that type of arrangement, because in the past, most businessmen and women had to pay loans on an installment basis. But this is where they had a lot of flexibility, so I was very proud of that.

– [Interviewer] Who gave you that flexibility?

– Ilon Owen Funderburg. He was a gentleman that believed in banking within the African-American community. He came from North Carolina. He had a lot of experience in banking operations, and he allowed us to do whatever we wanted to do within the scope of the bank’s operation. Take any task that you want, and work it to the best of your ability.

– [Interviewer] And what kind of reaction did you get from customers when they learned that you could afford them something like that?

– It was fantastic, unbelievable. Even 40-plus years later I still see people in the community that come to me and thank me for giving them their first loan, and helping them for financial situations. So it’s very gratifying.

– [Interviewer] I was just gonna say that, that must be very gratifying–

– It is very gratifying.

– [Interviewer] All this time later.

– All this time later.

– [Interviewer] We’re in a new era now.

– To a degree. To a degree. Gateway Bank was started in 1965, because it was very difficult for African-Americans to get loans from banks. And so, the founders started the bank on that premise, that they would be able to make loans to individuals in business, and also for consumer purchases. But here–

– It’s the positive– I’m sorry about that–

– But here in 2015, we have the same problem. So 50 years later, we still, as African-Americans, have the same problem getting loans from banking.

– [Interviewer] Interesting.

– Yep. It really is. It’s unfortunate, to be quite frank with you.

– [Interviewer] Are we repeating history?

– Yes, we are. Unfortunately, if we don’t know our history, we repeat it. And that’s one of the problems that I see today in the marketplace. We’re still, in St. Louis, one of the most un-banked communities for African-Americans in the country. And a lot of it has to do with the way the banking structure was set up in St. Louis and can still operates today.

– [Interviewer] Does that have the attention of people here?

– To a degree. Some of the organizations are trying to do something about it, but for the most part, the non-traditional financial places such as your check-cashing places, payday loans, they’re making a lot of money ’cause people are not aware of it.

– [Interviewer] Well, we’ve touched upon this, Mr. Mines, what was, personally for you, of greatest importance regarding Gateway and its role in the community here.

– Financial literacy. It was then, and it’s also now. Helping people to establish checking and savings accounts, understand the value of loans, understand the value of paying back loans. So, financial literacy continues to be a challenge for a lot of people. And I think it’s so important today to have that kind of information available to everyone.

– [Interviewer] Were you surprised when you heard the bank would close?

– No, I was not. The assets of Gateway National Bank in 1965 when it first capitalized, was about 65 million dollars. When they closed, many many years later, it was basically the same amount. So, we had not progressed any. So, I wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised.

– [Interviewer] That scenario does not work for a bank.

– No it does not. I mean, most banks today make money from fees, they make money from interest, but unfortunately Gateway National Bank was not a bank that allowed a opportunity to get a lot of fees. And, I think the most important point was this. At the time that the banks, the larger banks, were beginning to merge and acquire other banks, Gateway National Bank was not one of those banks that they acquired. So they kinda treated ’em like a stepchild at a family reunion.

– [Interviewer] Why was Gateway not among those that was considered?

– I think because the consumer base was primarily African-American, and the majority banks did not want to have anything to do with that community. And to give a good example, Mound City Bank was less than, a half a block, maybe two blocks away from Gateway National Bank and it had a major account with General Motors, which had a plant right on Natural Bridge and Union. And Mound City Bank, which is predominantly a white bank, had a demand account for check cashing. Which meant that thousands and thousands of dollars every week went to that bank to cash checks. Gateway Bank never got any demand deposits. And that was one of the problems. Gateway Bank received $100,000 for a CD that was advertised in the local African-American newspaper, but most people didn’t realize that if you have a $100,000 Certificate of Deposit, you can only lend out 10 or 20% of it based on the Federal Reserve requirements. So it wasn’t gonna be able to stay around long, plus you had to pay interest to the General Motors. So it was a tough situation.

– [Interviewer] You said you weren’t surprised. How did you feel about the news that the bank would close?

– Actually, I was disappointed because of the fact that there were some African-American men and women who were trying to acquire the bank. They were going around to various potential investors, to try to get them to purchase the charter. And nothing happened. And then the bank was sold to a group of businessmen who used it for predatory lending. ‘Cause they needed the bank charter for that purpose. And so it was not surprising, but very disappointing that it went that way.

– [Interviewer] Mr. Mines, have you heard of St. Louis Community Credit Union?

– I most certainly have.

– [Interviewer] What are your impressions?

– Very good, top-notch organization. As a matter of fact, I have a personal account there. I stayed with Gateway Bank even after its acquisition by a minority bank from Kansas City area. And when that particular entity decided to close the bank up, and we were visited by people from the St. Louis Community Credit Union, they wanted to transfer accounts over to their institution. And I was fortunate enough to be able to get an account transferred over to them. And I’ve been very impressed with their efforts to really connect with the African-American community in particular.

– [Interviewer] You said top-notch.

– Yes.

– What is it about St. Louis Community Credit Union?

– Their attention to the needs of the community from a financial literacy standpoint. They’re always having classes on financial education. They’re providing short-term loans, which is very important. Unsecured loans, which is very important. And the community aspect, I mean, the name implies, St. Louis Community Credit Union, and that’s exactly what it is.

– [Interviewer] Financial literacy remains a priority for you.

– It’s a very big priority. As a matter of fact, I think that financial literacy should be taught in kindergarten, and progress from there. There’s a number of people that have attend secondary education, post-graduate, and still don’t have financial literacy. And that’s one of the problems we have today.

– [Interviewer] The credit union has decided to pay tribute, in a sense, to Gateway Bank for this newest location, by bearing its name.

– Yes.

– [Interviewer] What do you think of that?

– I think it’s tremendous. As a matter of fact, I know it’s tremendous. I’m in the neighborhood all the time, and I saw the demolition, and I’m seeing it take place now, and I’ve seen the illustration of what the bank is gonna look like, so I’m very proud of what the St. Louis Community Credit Union is going to do in that location. There’s a lot of goodwill that goes with that. Because that’s an establishment that’s been around for a long time. It’s really an anchor in the community. So, it’s a great move on their part.

– [Interviewer] And not only building there, but keeping its name in some capacity.

– By all means, by all means. You can’t ask for any better legacy than someone to continue to carry it on like that.

– [Interviewer] That’s going to mean something to a lot of people.

– It’s gonna mean quite a bit to a number of people. I’ve always wanted to have some relationship with a financial institution that understood the market that I serve, and they do a tremendous job of that.

– [Interviewer] Well, Mr. Mines, in light of that, what does St. Louis Community Credit Union’s presence mean to the community with its investment in Gateway?

– Well, I think number one, they’re gonna deal with the financial literacy piece. They’re also gonna start working with the un-banked community, because of their programs. It’s gonna give people a place to go and take care of business and handle their business without having to go all over town. And they actually do make loans to people. And that’s very, very important. I’m astounded by the movement of financial institutions away from signature loans that just help people to get from one paycheck to another, but it’s much needed. That would be a big help to a lot of people. Let me also say this, that having an institution like the community credit union, which I’ve always been a fan of. I understand what it’s all about, it’s owned by the customers and the, quote, shareholders if you will. It takes on a different attitude than, quote, a commercial bank. But because it feels like a commercial bank, and acts like a commercial bank, we get the advantages of all of that. And that’s very important. So I think they’re doing a tremendous job in all aspects of financial wherewithal.