The year was 1934. The Great Depression had shuttered the previously established financial institutions in Carter County 3 years earlier. This didn’t stop the vision of eight civic-minded businessmen and their aspirations to once again have a bank in Elizabethton. Under the leadership of Dr. E.L. Caudill Sr. and Attorney Raymond C. Campbell, the founders raised the necessary capital mandated by the State Banking Commission to receive a charter.
November 5th, 1934, Citizens Bank opened its doors in the former First National Bank building at 601 E. Elk Ave. in downtown Elizabethton. The original Board of Directors consisted of Dr. E.L. Caudill as president and Chairman of the Board along with the directors, Attorney Raymond C. Campbell, James B. Deal, D.L. Maugans, Allen F. Taylor, Judge Ben Allen, Joe E. Godsey and R.C. Turrentine. Turrentine was also responsible for the day to day operations and management of the branch alongside his three associates, Ann Felty, B.R. Cantrell and Chris Ritts.
Over the next three decades, Citizens Bank continued to grow and prosper under the leadership of Dr. Caudill, Turrentine and Campbell. Their decisions on bank operations and practices were based on the founding principles: (1) assurance of safety to depositors (2) a high standard of service to customers and (3) a genuine desire to serve the community. Their dedication to Carter County and Elizabethton were instrumental in the economic growth of the area.
In 1956 Campbell and Caudill decided to bring on Joe LaPorte Jr., as a loan officer. Joe grew up in the local community of Stoney Creek. After earning his B.S. in Accounting in 1950, he went to work for the FDIC as a bank examiner, then to Fountain City Bank located near Knoxville to sharpen his skills as a banker. LaPorte brought new vision and energy to the bank as well as the area. His love for his home community and incredible work ethic made it apparent he would be the next leader of Citizens Bank.
Joe LaPorte took the reins in 1962 and started a period of growth and expansion. First by building a new main office on the site where the present-day Citizens Bank corporate office is located. Then he led the expansion of offices throughout the county. As the bank grew along with Carter County, others took notice. In 1973 Tennessee Valley Bancorp purchased Citizens Bank’s assets under the premise that having greater financial resources would be beneficial to the communities and customers located in the smaller bank’s footprint. The conglomerate maintained the Citizens Bank brand and the local leadership with Joe at the helm. However, the management directives from Nashville didn’t always align with the principles that had brought such success to Citizens Bank over the previous four decades.
In the early 1980’s LaPorte set into motion a valiant strategy that would reshape the future of Citizens Bank. The first phase was the establishment of a family owned and operated company, Citco Community Bancshares Inc., the holding company that continues to own Citizens Bank today. From there, Joe made the tactical play to reacquire full control of Citizens Bank and successfully returned the company he loved to a local, community centered, financial institution.
Joe’s dedication to the community and his family garnered him the name “Papa Joe”. That same enthusiasm fostered a reputation of great leadership and innovation that propelled Citizens Bank to become nationally recognized for its extraordinary performance.
After Graduating from the University of Tennessee Joe LaPorte III joined the bank in 1979. He excelled at learning the inner workings of banking and displayed the same resolve for Citizens Bank and the community that Papa Joe had fashioned. In 1985, at the age of 29, Joe III stepped into his father’s shoes and became the fifth president poised to continue the success synonymous with the LaPorte name. He did just that. Joe successfully led the Bank though multiple advancements and acquisitions that expanded Citizens Bank throughout all the Tri-Cities and into Knoxville, established Citizens Investment Services Inc. (a brokerage subsidiary affiliated with Raymond James Financial Advisors), and assembled a leadership team that remained focused on the core values on which the foundation of the organization was built.
Today Joe LaPorte III still leads Citizens Bank as the Chairman of the Board and CEO. In a recent opportunity to discuss the anniversary with Mr. LaPorte and the current bank president, Larry Estepp, Joe was asked about his 40-year career with Citizens Bank and the 85 years of service to our community. “When I started banking it was the business of taking care of people and we have worked diligently to keep the bank focused on people.” He discussed how times have changed and the effects of technology in our industry. “Everything moves at a faster pace now; We want to keep up with today’s needs but at the same time ensure the focus stays on the business of taking care of people. We want to be different; we want to keep it personal.”Mr. Estepp’s thoughts centered on the same concept. “Citizens Bank has been involved in helping people’s dreams come true.” Either of these gentlemen can tell story after story of the impact Citizens Bank has made in our community. One such story was from a local family in Elizabethton whose father came to town in the 40’s to look at an opportunity to purchase a business. As he was leaving town the bank president asked why he was leaving and if he didn’t have the money to make the purchase? When the gentleman said no, the banker loaned him the money and the business is still thriving and serving our communities. “Citizens Bank has a history of supporting the communities that we serve. It may be monetary, being an advocate or lending a helping hand. This is what makes community banks so valuable to our region” says Larry Estepp.
The future for Citizens Bank is bright. Both LaPorte and Estepp speak highly of the strength of the management team and knowledgeable staff. The 3 founding principles have steered the organization into a sound financial institution that is poised for the future. Estepp added “We will continue to seek opportunities for growth by expanding our geographical boundaries, provide innovative products and services like our SBA lending program, and deliver new technologies to our customers for improved service and convenience."
Citizens Bank truly is a LOCAL financial organization dedicated to their customers, their employees and the communities they serve. For more information about Citizens Bank visit citizensbank24.com or stop by one of their convenient locations and meet a member of the friendly staff.