Is Your Home Ready for Winter?


Minnesota and Wisconsin are known for cold winters. Just how cold? On January 9 and 10 of 1982, the wind chill was purported to be -71 degrees in Minnesota. That type of weather can be fatal to people and animals, and it really does a number on our homes, too.

Most days aren’t nearly that cold, but many can get downright numbing. What can you do to prepare your home for this weather? We’ve compiled some of the best tips.

As you go through these tips, remember that everyone has a different level of comfort in tackling home projects. Please consider hiring professionals whenever you believe it is necessary.


  • Insulate walls and attic.
  • Install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near a fireplace, wood stove or portable heater. Vent all fuel-burning equipment outside.
  • Examine wooden window frames for signs of rot or decay.
  • Examine exposed ducts in the attic, basement, and crawl spaces. Use a sealant to plug up any leaks.
  • Test your sump pump.


  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
    Service snow-removal equipment. Sharpen ice chopper and inspect snow shovels.
  • Trim overgrown branches back from the house and electrical wires to prevent them from causing a problem with ice or wind.
  • Ensure rain or snow drains away from the house to avoid foundation problems. The dirt grade around the exterior of your home should slope away from the house.
  • Remove and drain any attached hoses and store them for the winter.
  • Shut off exterior faucets. Drain water from outdoor pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads to protect against pipe bursts.
  • Make sure you have an ample supply of ice melt or sand on hand.
  • Check the gutters and downspouts for proper fastening. Re-secure if loose or sagging. The weight of snow and ice can pull gutters off the house.
  • Clean gutters of any debris. Make sure downspouts extend away from the house by at least 5 feet.
    Ensure all vents and openings are covered to prevent insects, birds, and rodents from getting inside to nest in a warm place.

Projects Where You’ll Definitely Want Professional Help

  • Have chimney and flue inspected.
  • Check for missing, damaged or warped shingles. Have a professional replace them as necessary to prevent roof leaks.
  • Check for deteriorated flashing at the chimney, walls, and skylights and around vent pipes. Seal joints where water could penetrate.
  • Have a professional Inspect your furnace or heat pump to be sure the system is in good repair.

Again, please consider hiring local professionals when needed, including clearing your driveway and sidewalks, if necessary.

Don’t Forget Your Pets

When the weather gets cold, take care of your pets. Bring them inside, or make sure they have adequate shelter and unfrozen water, if they are outdoors.

If you need help financing any home repairs or projects, a Home Equity Line of Credit may be the answer. Contact your local Merchants Bank location today.

Tips compiled from, and

Loans are subject to credit approval.

Meet Rachel Larson, Audit & Compliance Officer at Merchants

Rachel, pictured with her husband, Charlie and children, Greta and Charles

Rachel, pictured with her husband, Chuck and children, Greta and Charlie

How long have you been with Merchants?
Rachel: I started in the Bookkeeping area in 1999. Then, in 2000, I moved to the ACH/Wire department. From there I worked in the Internal Audit Department in 2004 and eventually the Audit/Compliance Department in 2005, where I still am today.

What do you enjoy about coming to work every day?
Rachel: The challenge and the people. My job is not monotonous; every day it’s something different. Banking industry regulations are evolving and complicated, and it’s challenging to stay up on top of everything, but it’s an attainable goal. Plus, I truly enjoy all of my co-workers.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?
Rachel: How to do a projected three-month budget and stick to it. Really.

What’s one thing on your bucket list?
Rachel: To go to Denali National Park in Alaska with my husband and two kids. We love the outdoors…camping, fishing, you name it.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?
Rachel: My Kindle, which is in a green protective case. I love to read…I read two books a week.

What’s your secret talent?
Rachel: Proofreading. I proofread articles, I proofread signs…I have no idea why. It must be the auditor in me.

Helping Realtors Help Their Customers

TRID4Days-BlogTaking the Right Steps May Keep You from Delays
It’s difficult for everyone concerned when a closing is delayed. A new consideration has been added to the mix with the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rules for mortgage applications submitted on or after October 3, 2015.

The new Closing Disclosure has been put in place to add protection for customers by moving the Closing Disclosure timeframe from 24 hours to 3 business days, if hand-delivered, and 6 business days, if sent by mail. TRID rules will require the lender to give customers 3 to 6 more business days under certain change in circumstances to review the closing disclosure.

Three Things Will Require a New 3-day Review for Your Buyers:

  1. The APR (Annual Percentage Rate) increases by more than 1/8 of a percent for fixed-rate loans and ¼ of a percent for adjustable rate loans. A decrease in APR will not require a new 3-day review.
  2. A prepayment penalty is added, making it more expensive to sell or refinance.
  3. The basic loan product changes, such as a switch from a fixed rate to an adjustable interest rate or to a loan with interest-only payments, or a switch in terms, for example, going from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage.


This should help:
We hope this information will provide help to ensure new October 3, 2015, TRID requirements don’t delay your client closings:

  • The Closing Disclosure must be delivered to the buyer/consumer at least 3 business days prior to the scheduled closing date. If by mail, the disclosure should be delivered/mailed 6 business days prior to the scheduled closing date.
  • To meet the Closing Disclosure delivery requirements of 3 and 6 business days, mentioned above, the closing agent should get information to the lender 10 to 14 days prior to the closing date for completion of the Closing Disclosure. We suggest you communicate to the closing agent all your buyer paid charges, so the closing agent can comfortably get information to the lender. Plus, remember an additional 3 to 6 more business days may be needed, if a re-disclosure is triggered.
  • The closing agent will need your real estate company’s state license number and your individual real estate number for the Closing Disclosure. Every file should contain the listing and selling agents name and phone number, contact information for the buyer and seller and the lender’s contact information.
  • Keep in mind that depending on the agreement, the lender, not the closing agent, may be preparing and delivering the Closing Disclosure.
  • Consider booking the actual closing date earlier in the process. This will help everyone in the process, encouraging everything to be completed in a timely manner. You can use the booked date to help prorate taxes, determining HOA (Homeowner’s Association) dues, calculating odd days’ interest and so on.
  • Make sure any repairs that need to be completed and proof of the completion/re-inspection should be done prior to the closing.
  • If applicable, well certificates need to be recorded. We suggest you solve this at the time the property is listed. Be clear on who is paying to record any well certificates.
  • Study the new Closing Disclosure form/format so you are able to answer questions from buyers and sellers. The new rules could affect the dates you put in place. Make sure they are realistic.

Please note, changes/adjustments that affect the value of the property may trigger additional disclosure and review periods.

The laws are continually changing to protect your customers, and the information can be hard to digest. If you have questions, give me a call or send me an email. I’m here to help make the process as smooth as possible for you and your customers.

Loans are subject to credit approval.

Sources include: Old Republic Title company’s “Top 10 Things Real Estate Agents Should Know About the New TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures (TRID)” and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Will the new mortgage disclosures delay my closing.”

Cheesecake Factory Pumpkin Cheesecake



  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 5 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar, divided
  • 3 – 8 oz. packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • whipped cream



Preheat oven to 350°. Make the crust by combining the gram cracker crumbs with the melted butter and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a medium bowl. Stir well enough to coat all of the crumbs with the butter, but not so much as to turn the mixture into paste. Keep it crumbly. Press the crumbs onto the bottom and about 2/3 of the way up the sides of a spring form pan. You don’t want the crust to form all of the way up the back of each slice of cheesecake. Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then set it aside until you are ready to fill it.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, and vanilla. Mix with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the pumpkin, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and continue to beat until smooth and creamy.

Pour the filling into the pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes. Top will turn a bit darker at this point. Remove from the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool.

When the cheesecake has come to room temperature, put it into the refrigerator. When the cheesecake has chilled, remove the pan sides and cut the cake into 8 equal pieces. Use dental floss to make a clean cut. Serve with a generous portion of whipped cream on top. Serves 8.


Merchants Family Cookbooks are available at all Merchants Bank locations for $15. Proceeds benefit local food shelf programs.

Meet Wendy Cagle, Loan Review Officer at Merchants

Wendy, with her son, Clay, and husband, Greg.

Wendy, with her son, Clay, and husband, Greg.

How long have you been with Merchants?
Wendy: In 1993, I started in Mortgage Processing – the same year I got married, actually! In 1996, I accepted a position in Loan Review. When I started in Loan Review, I mainly reviewed mortgage loans and created monthly Board reports. Eventually, I transitioned to commercial loan review and commercial has become my main focus. I audit our loans to make sure loan policy is followed and risks are identified. I also review a sample of all other loans throughout the year too.

What do you enjoy about coming to work every day?
Wendy: I definitely enjoy my co-workers. They make my day fun. I truly enjoy my work too. A lot of people might think loan review is boring, but every file I open is a new adventure. I’m looking at new things every day. You get to see how businesses grow over the years. Plus, Merchants is such a community minded place. Our management’s positive approach brightens our work environment.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?
Wendy: I’m a saver. If I wanted to buy something special when I was growing up, I had to save my own money for it.

What’s one thing on your bucket list?
Wendy: I’m not really a bucket list type of person. I want to live life every day and not wait for the future.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?
Wendy: Green beans. I am a green bean nut. I’m a vegetarian and they are a staple of my diet.

What’s your secret talent?
Wendy: Always trying to see the good in every situation. I’ve been called Miss Positivity.

Connie Fort Promoted to Vice President of Consumer Loans at Merchants Bank

personal loans

Connie Fort, Vice President of Consumer Loans

Connie Fort has been promoted to Vice President of Consumer Loans at Merchants Bank, according to Andrea Lisowski, Vice President and Manager of the Consumer Loan department.

“Connie has consistently been the top producer in Consumer Loans and does an exceptional job sharing other bank products with her customers, making sure all of their banking needs are met.” Lisowski said, noting that Fort continues in her role as the Assistant Manager of the Consumer Loan department.

Fort has been with the Merchants organization since 1989 and has worked in the Consumer Loan department since 2003. She has been Assistant Manager of the department since 2010.

“It’s a privilege to help our customers with their loan needs,” Fort said. “I am lucky to have people come back to me when they have a new need, and I am thankful they feel satisfied with the service I’ve provided so they then recommend me to their friends and family.”

In addition to being active in the community, Fort also presents information to students at Winona State University and high schools throughout the area, educating those students about credit, the importance of good credit and how to build credit.

“Connie’s dedication and passion to be extraordinary are very visible to her co-workers and her customers,” Lisowski said.

Loans are subject to credit approval.

Congratulate New and Promoted Staff

At Merchants Bank, we are happy to welcome new employees and celebrate new positions filled by current staff. These frontline employees are all looking forward to serving you. Take a moment to congratulate them.

AhlmanJoe Joe Ahlman has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Winona. Joe is currently enrolled at Winona State University majoring in Finance. He enjoys being active playing any kind of sport. His favorite season is winter and he is a Pittsburg Steelers fan. Joe previously worked at In*Tech and Cabela’s.
 DanielsonSarah Sarah Danielson has joined Merchants Bank as a Commercial Banker/VP in La Crescent. Sarah has 21 years of banking experience in her previous role as AVP/Business Banker at Coulee Bank. She also previously worked at Premier Business Services and Associated Bank. Sarah and her husband, Paul are life-long residents of La Crescent and she is looking forward to serving her hometown. In addition to banking, Sarah and her husband own Golf Headquarters in Onalaska, WI. They have four children; 12 year old triplets and a 6 year old.
Dana Dobrunz has been promoted to Personal Banker at Merchants Bank in La Crescent. She will be responsible for serving customers’ personal loan and deposit needs. Dana has been with Merchants Bank in La Crescent since 1993, where she has been a long-time Customer Service Representative.
 HahnCarla Carla Hahn has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Caledonia. Carla previously worked as a Pharmacy Technician at Degen Berglund Pharmacy and as an Office Manager at General Lea Manor. Carla and her husband, Charles have been married for 25 years and have four daughters and two grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, reading, and walking.
 LeahlyTeressa Teressa Leahy has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Caledonia. Teressa previously was a Teller at Merchants for four years and also previously worked at Fastenal in Accounts Receivable. Teressa is in school pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Business.
 RandallBecky Becky Randall has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Caledonia. She previously worked at Festival Foods as a Cashier. Becky, her husband, Dusty and their two children moved to Caledonia in 2013. Becky went to school and graduated with a Veterinary Technology degree. She worked in jewelry sales and management and then traded in her career for motherhood. In her free time she enjoys hiking, fishing, biking and volunteering at family movie night and the library.
 SillKim Kim Sill has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Hastings. Kim also is currently working at St. Philip’s Early Learning Center as a Director and previously worked for Vermillion Bank as a Teller/Night Operator. Kim is a “soccer” mom. Her son, Holden loves the sport and is a senior at Hastings High School. Kim’s husband, James, is a teacher. Kim enjoys scrap booking, reading mystery books and playing tennis.
 ZehrLori Lori Zehr has joined Merchants Bank as a Teller in Winona. Lori recently returned from China after living there for four years. She is married and has two teenagers and her family is now resettling in Winona. In her free time Lori likes to read, go for walks, and visit with friends from China (through We-Chat). She is very happy to be back at Merchants where she worked as a Teller more than 15 years ago!