A mainstay of Monroe County’s community will be at least somewhat less visible soon, as First National Bank of Waterloo President and CEO Gary Hemmer is retiring June 30.
“It’s been a very good career,” Hemmer said. “It’s an industry that’s been beaten up over the years, but now there’s a lot of positive things like with all the (Paycheck Protection Program) loans we did. Helping people – that’s what banking is all about.”
Hemmer took over as FNB’s president and CEO on July 1, 1999, but after he graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s in finance in 1975, he did not want to go into banking.
Hemmer planned to get into corporate America, but he received enough rejection letters to “wallpaper a room.” So, he decided to return to school to get a master’s in finance and test the market again when he was finished.
Two weeks before he was scheduled to return to school, First National Bank in St. Louis offered him a job and told him it would pay for a portion of his education.
“I thought, ‘fine, let’s give banking a try. It will at least look good on the resume, and I can do it for a couple of years, get my degree and figure out what I want to do,’” Hemmer recounted.
After obtaining his MBA from St. Louis University, he wound up staying with FNB in St. Louis for six years before moving to First National Bank of Belleville.
“I was hooked on banking,” Hemmer said. “I enjoyed it and realized there was more to banking than I originally thought.”
“The big thing is you’re helping people achieve their goals in life – whether it be financial goals for your business, whether it be education, homes, cars or whatever it is,” he added.
Hemmer worked at FNB of Belleville, which eventually became Magna Bank, for 17 years until the bank sold and his position was eliminated.
He started working for a consulting firm that worked with local banks and planned to buy the company from its owner when he got the offer to become President and CEO of FNB of Waterloo.
In his 21 years with the company, Hemmer said he was particularly proud of how the bank has grown from three locations with roughly $150 million in assets to 13 locations with approximately $650 million in assets.
“We’ve built several locations, and we’ve completed two acquisitions,” Hemmer said. “I think that’s the biggest accomplishment is we’ve been able to grow the organization from what it was to what it is today.”
In his nearly half-century in the industry, Hemmer has seen his fair share of changes, with the most seismic coming in his time in Waterloo.
“Technology has changed significantly the way we transact banking,” Hemmer said. “It has become more electronic and mobile. We’ve rolled out a lot of technology. We’ve upgraded our systems to allow our customers to access them through their mobile phone or online.”
While growing the bank and acclimating to those changes, Hemmer still made time to serve.
He worked with the Illinois Bankers Association and American Bankers Association. Locally, he volunteered with the Waterloo Rotary Club, Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, Monroe County YMCA, Camp Wartburg and the United Way of Illinois.
“I would hope that people would say that I had some impact on the banking industry – at the national level, at the state level or just here in our Monroe County or St. Clair County locations,” Hemmer said.
Hemmer will still be helping FNB with consulting on an interim basis after he retires, but the 67-year-old said now was the time to let someone else take over.
He said he plans to use his time to travel to places like Antarctica and Australia for bicycling trips and spend more time with his grandchildren and 89-year-old parents.
Mainly, he said he will enjoy having so much free time.
“If I want to go jump on my bike and ride sometime, I can do that,” the avid cycler said.