An opportunity to come home

Greg Evans

Winona native Greg Evans became Merchants Bank’s president late last year. After seven years working for Merchants in the Cannon Falls region, Evans is still transitioning back to life in his hometown. Photo credit: Andrew Link, Winona Daily News

Like father, like son.

That might be a good way to describe new Merchants Bank president Greg Evans, but it’s not the only way. Winona native is another. So is Steamboat Days harbormaster, 10 Days of Giving founder and community leader.

For his father, Gary Evans, another native and Winona business and community leader, when he talks about his son, it’s about how he has stepped into his own and the mark he has left on the community.

“When he came back from college he was Gary Evans’ son,” he admitted. “Now that he’s come back from Cannon Falls, I am Greg Evans’ father. I really like that. He’s a chip off the old block.”

Community is important to Greg, who cites Gary and Merchants Financial Group CEO Rod Nelson as mentors and people who have instilled the importance of community in him. Merchants’ philosophy is that a strong community translates into a strong community bank, and Greg is a follower of that philosophy.

“Community engagement isn’t optional,” Greg said. “It’s an expectation. We believe that when the community thrives and prospers, Merchants can only benefit as a result.”

After studying journalism in college and a short tenure as a reporter in Iowa, Greg came back to Winona and joined Merchants Bank in the late 1980s in marketing. One of his first projects at the bank was starting the annual 10 Days of Giving food drive, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last winter and has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions of tons of food for the Winona food shelf.

Nelson said the 10 Days of Giving was a prime example of how Greg leads by example, and called the growth over the years of the program a testament to his passion for the community.

“It’s gone beyond a Merchants’ thing,” Nelson said. “It’s now a Winona thing.”

Greg was involved with a number of community events and organizations during his time in Winona, capped off — literally — with being named Steamboat Days Harbormaster in 2007.

Later that year, he was promoted to be Merchants regional president for the bank’s newly acquired Cannon Falls division, and Greg began to build ties in his new home.

That, of course, meant community involvement. Greg’s wife, Terri, is a leader with the Cannon Falls Education Foundation. Greg got involved with the Cannon Falls Rotary Club and the Goodhue Habitat for Humanity board, among others.

Greg said he never really had a strategy to come back to Winona, but the chips fell in place last year when he was chosen to replace Rod Nelson as bank president. It wasn’t an easy decision after seven years of building a home and community connections, and Greg said he initially thought Cannon Falls might be the last stop in his career path.

“But we saw an opportunity to come home and be close to family,” Greg said. “It’s just an extraordinary opportunity.”

The transition to Winona is smoothing out, as Greg bounced between the two cities as he looked for his replacement for Cannon Falls. His family is still working on selling the old house and getting one in Winona, but in the meantime has moved from a hotel room to apartments near East Lake Winona, which he appreciates for the beautiful view and quick access to the running path.

Evans said the transition won’t really sink in until after he’s unpacked and settled in, but he said one thing didn’t require a transition — falling back in love with his hometown. The Winona community and its beauty is a tremendous draw, and he’s glad to be back, he said.

“A lot of people leave Winona and chose to come back,” he said. “It says so much of the caring nature of this community.”

While Greg and Gary were never strangers during his time in Cannon Falls, the elder Evans is glad to have his son back in town. He’s proud of all his son has accomplished, and said he knows Greg has a deep love for Winona and that commitment to the community and its people shows in his endeavors.

“He sees the good in others and firmly believes you can’t accomplish things in a vacuum,” Gary said. “It’s a wonderful thing when parents can be proud of their children.”

 

 Story by . Reprinted with permission from Winona Daily News.

Memorial Bike Ride Concludes Saturday

The ninth annual Christian Elder Memorial Bike Ride will conclude in the Merchants Bank parking lot, 7300 147th Street W., at 10 a.m. Saturday. More than $37,000 has been raised so far and more is expected. The money raised will set a record.

Merchants Bank in Apple Valley has been the title sponsor and a major contributor since the ride’s inception. Merchants Bank employees and members of the public are expected to meet John Elder and members of his team as they complete their 900 mile ride winding through the scenic landscape of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The 16-day ride is made in the memory of John’s son, Christian, and benefits Kids n’ Kinship, an organization that connects children from 5-16 years old with volunteer mentors.

“This is a wonderful story, and we are proud to be involved from the beginning. John and his team inspire us all and show us how important it is to be role models for young people,” said Lawrence Stovern, Regional President of Merchants Bank in the Twin Cities. “We are humbled and honored to be involved.”

Beacon House Gets New Phone System

ECPhoneDonation2 copyWhen Merchants Bank acquired the former Alliance Bank location in Eau Claire on February 14, it meant a new phone system for the bank that matched what Merchants had in place at all of its locations. That was good fortune for Beacon House, part of the Eau Claire Interfaith Hospitality Network. Merchants Bank – Eau Claire President Mark Willer worked with Kelly Christianson, Executive Director of Eau Claire Interfaith Hospitality Network, and Pam Kozuch, owner of Telephone Systems Incorporated (TSI), to make sure the phones and components were installed at Beacon House. Merchants supplied the previously used components and TSI provided the installation. Beacon House serves families and pregnant women who are temporarily homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Merchants Bank and the Great River Shakespeare Festival Celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday with Cake

Merchants Bank will join the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in celebrating Shakespeare’s 450th birthday by offering birthday cake at Merchants’ downtown Winona location from noon to 2:00 p.m., Wednesday, April 23. The public is invited.

“We are excited to commemorate William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and kick-off our ‘450 Celebrate the 450th’ campaign,” said Emily Kurash, GRSF Director of Marketing and Sales. “There will be many wonderful ways for supporters and fans of GRSF to mark this milestone during the 2014 season, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to start the celebration with Merchants Bank and the entire community.”

GRSF members will be on hand to serve the cake and talk about the upcoming season. Merchants, celebrating its 139th year, has been a significant supporter of GRSF since its inception. This is GRSF’s
11th season, which will run June 26 – August 3 and will feature “Hamlet,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” Other events include free weekend concerts and educational events for all ages throughout the season.

“We value the cultural and economic contributions GRSF makes to improve the quality of life all of us enjoy across this region,” said Merchants Bank President & Chief Banking Officer Greg Evans. “We invite our neighbors in to show their support for GRSF by having a piece of cake and learning more about the coming season.”

Terry Hawkings Named Volunteer of the Month

Terry Hawkings serves on the Great River Shakespeare Festival and volunteers for multiple organizations. The Merchants Bank employee co-chaired the bank's 25th annual 10 Days of Giving campaign last year.

Terry Hawkings serves on the Great River Shakespeare Festival and volunteers for multiple organizations. The Merchants Bank employee co-chaired the bank’s 25th annual 10 Days of Giving campaign last year. Photo credit: Andrew Link, Winona Daily News

Terry Hawkings is looking out for Winona.

A Winona resident for nearly 20 years, Hawkings, 52, has spent the better part of her time volunteering for Winona events, including the Great River Shakespeare Festival and Merchants Bank’s annual 10 Days of Giving food drive during the holiday season.

The Merchants employee volunteers in the community because she wants to help make Winona an appealing travel destination, she said. Like her fellow Volunteer of the Month nominees, she simply found things in the community she was passionate about and stepped up to donate her time.

“If it’s good for Winona, then it’s good for my employer and it’s good for me,” Hawkings said.

Hawkings, who journeyed to Winona from California 20 years ago, calls Merchants her catalyst to volunteerism. It’s the bank’s core values that prompted Hawkings to get involved in the community ever since she got here, she said.

Hawkings generally lends her time as a coordinator or board member, but also looks for ways to step into one-time events and help with whatever’s needed, like at Trinona or Live at the Levee. It doesn’t matter where in an organization you serve, she said — only that you do.

“You don’t have to take on a leadership role to be useful,” Hawkings said. “Just participate.”

For Shakespeare, Hawkings works as a volunteer coordinator. She also served as the co-chair for the 10 Days of Giving event last year when it celebrated its 25th anniversary. She’s the president-elect of Winona’s Exchange Club and is the treasurer of the Live at the Levee committee — among other initiatives.

So, why does she take on all the extra commitments?

“Just to feel like I belong,” Hawkings said. “Walking down the street and knowing people. But I’m passionate about the economic value, specifically for GRSF.”

Hawkings believes Winona can be a template for a small-town tourist destination, and is headed in the right direction. Her focus now is helping to revitalize downtown.

“If we can improve our downtown, we can improve as a destination,” Hawkings said.

She wants to help groom the area to be the hub for the art enthusiast, the outdoorsy-type and those just passing through. Hawkings isn’t the first one to notice Winona’s need for changes downtown. With programs such as the Winona Main Street Program, the community is taking steps to revitalize the area.

That, and Live at the Levee, which has held multiple community music and arts events downtown over the last year.

“I meet so many different people,” Hawkings said. “We reach a different population of people in Winona.”

Even with a bustling schedule, Hawkings doesn’t plan to slow down. She’ll often work with her husband, but she admitted he’s one of the doers while she’s a planner.

“We have this little joke that I’m the volunteer and he’s the volun-told,” Hawkings said with a laugh.

 

 Story by Andrew Sroka. Reprinted with permission from Winona Daily News.

Project FINE Recognizes 2013 “Partner of the Year”

As seen in the Winona Post

On February 11, the Project FINE Board of Directors hosted its “Annual Report to the Community” at the Saint Mary’s University Toner Center. This event is a celebration of the organization’s activities and accomplishments during the previous year and a time to thank the many partners, stakeholders, staff and volunteers who help Project FINE make a positive impact in our community.

Each year, Project FINE recognizes an exceptional partner with the Partners Award.  For 2013, we are pleased to honor Merchants Bank with this award.

Pictured are Fatima Said, Project FINE Executive Director; Rod Nelson, Merchants Bank President and CEO; and Dr. Connie J. Gores, Project FINE 2013 Board President.

Pictured are Fatima Said, Project FINE Executive Director; Rod Nelson, Merchants Bank President and CEO; and Dr. Connie J. Gores, Project FINE 2013 Board President.

Merchants Bank
Merchants Bank has been an exceptional partner to Project FINE for many years.  In 2013, they completed an organizational diversity assessment and collaborated with Project FINE to provide diversity training for bank staff.  Merchants Bank also offered a series of banking education sessions for refugees and immigrants on home ownership and refinancing and they continue their commitment to serving diverse populations by providing interpreters for their non-English speaking bank clients.  As a result of this education and outreach, four newcomer families purchased a home through Merchants Bank in 2013 and countless others opened accounts.

Project FINE would like to thank the leadership and staff at Merchants Bank for their commitment to creating an inclusive environment and meeting the banking needs of newcomers in our community.  We are proud to partner with Merchants Bank and over 60 other community businesses, organizations and service providers to build a respectful and sensitive community.

“10 Days of Giving” Raises Food and Money in St. Charles

10DaysLogoST. CHARLES, Minn. – The Southeast Minnesota Rural Education and Resource Center received 3,300 pounds of food and $500 from the “10 Days of Giving,” December 1-10, at Merchants Bank in St. Charles.

Area businesses and individuals added to the total by bring food and money to Merchants in St. Charles. Also included in the total was $250 that the Southeast Minnesota Rural Education and Resource Center received from “Swipe Out Hunger,” a Facebook giveaway that Merchants ran to coincide with “10 Days of Giving.” “Swipe Out Hunger” benefited food shelves throughout the region.

“We are thankful for the generosity of our neighbors, and we are grateful that we have the opportunity to help the good people at the Southeast Minnesota Rural Education and Resource Center,” said Sandra Pasche of Merchants Bank.

Merchants Bank has been holding the “10 Days of Giving” for the past 25 years. This is the second year for the Facebook giveaway.

“10 Days of Giving” Record-Breaking Year Ends by Topping 280,000 Pounds

10DaysLogoWINONA, Minn. – Final tallies put the 25th Anniversary of the “10 Days of Giving” at 280,082 pounds of food.

The total breaks down to $127,626 in cash and 24,830 pounds of food. The previous record was set in 2009 when just over 250,000 pounds of food was collected. For the purposes of the total, two pounds of food are counted for each dollar.

“This year’s drive was successful because we came together as a community to help people, to make sure that no one in Winona County goes hungry,” said Mark Metzler, who is co-chair of the food drive. “Most of all, we are moved by the generosity of our neighbors who have made the effort to make a difference for someone else.”

This is the 25th anniversary of the “10 Days of Giving” and the 40th anniversary of Winona Volunteer Services, which benefits from the Winona contributions. The 25-year total for pounds of food collected now stands at 2,393,767.

“At Merchants Bank, we are thankful that we have the ability and employee dedication to help facilitate this drive. It really is a privilege,” Metzler said.

More than 30 area schools and child-care centers and more than 150 businesses participated in this year’s drive. For a listing of this year’s participating businesses, click here.

Area Food Shelves Receive Money from “Swipe Out Hunger”

SwipeOutHungerAppBannerMerchants Bank’s “Swipe Out Hunger” Facebook giveaway has concluded with more than 1,700 votes cast to benefit area food shelves.

Merchants Bank donated 5 cents each time a Merchants Bank credit card or debit card was used between November 29 and December 15, for a total of $10,000 to be split among the food shelves. Votes were placed on Merchants Bank’s Facebook page.

Merchants Bank representatives will be presenting food shelf representatives with checks within the coming week.

The Food Shelves were nominated by bank locations (bank locations making the nomination are noted in parentheses). There were a number of locations that nominated the same organization. The “Swipe Out Hunger” awards break down as follows:

  • 360 Communities (Lakeville): $270
  • Cannon Falls Food Shelf (Cannon Falls): $540
  • Channel One Rochester (Rochester): $569
  • Eagan & Lakeville Resource Center (Apple Valley and Rosemount): $352
  • Friends in Need Food Shelf (Cottage Grove): $387
  • Hastings Family Services (Hastings): $751
  • La Crescent Food Share (La Crescent): $2,383
  • Randolph Food Shelf (Hampton): $264
  • Red Wing Area Food Shelf (Red Wing): $250
  • SEMCAC Houston County Food Shelf (Caledonia and Spring Grove): $387
  • SEMCAC in Preston (Lanesboro): $250
  • SEMCAC in Rushford (Rushford): $370
  • Southeastern Minnesota Education & Resource Center (St. Charles): $250
  • The Hunger Task Force (Onalaska): $2,066
  • Winona Volunteer Services (Winona, Lakeside, Goodview): $1,238
 A minimum of $250 was given to nominated food shelves. Total amount given away was $10,327.

“10 Days of Giving” Continues to be Ahead of Last Year’s Pace

10DaysLogoWINONA, Minn. – Through the end of business Monday, Merchants Bank’s “10 Days of Giving” remained ahead of last year’s pace with 160,300 pounds of food collected.

The totals include $77,774 in cash and 4,752 pounds of food. Included in the updated totals is a $20,000 anonymous gift. Last year at this time, 98,106 pounds of food had been collected, including $46,230 in cash and 5,646 pounds of food. For purposes of the calculation, each dollar counts for two pounds of food.

“We’re moved again this year by the kindness of the people in our community,” said Terry Hawkings, who is co-chair of this year’s food drive. “The next few days are critical to the drive’s success, and we know that everyone will do what they can to make sure no one in Winona County goes hungry this year.”

Last year, 195,438 pounds of food was collected, the fourth highest total ever. The 24-year total is 2,113,685 pounds of food. The record collection was more than 250,000 pounds in 2009.

There is still time to give. Merchants Bank employees and other volunteers will collect food barrels and cash cans at area schools, day-cares and businesses Thursday and Friday. The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train will be at the Amtrak depot in Winona on Wednesday, December 11, at 5:15 p.m.

This is the 25th anniversary of the “10 Days of Giving” and the 40th anniversary of Winona Volunteer Services, which benefits from the Winona contributions.

Checks may be made payable to “10 Days of Giving.” Checks not deposited at a Merchants Bank office may be mailed to Merchants Bank, P.O. Box 248, Winona MN 55987; or Winona Volunteer Services, 402 East Second Street in Winona. Merchants Bank is a member FDIC.

Gifts of food may be dropped at any Merchants Bank location in Winona, Goodview or St. Charles. In addition to more than 30 area schools and child-care centers participating in this year’s Drive, there are more than 150 business collection sites throughout Winona County. For a listing of this year’s special events and participating businesses, go to the Merchants Bank blog at http://blog.merchantsbank.com/. You may also access the blog at merchantsbank.com.

The Southeastern Minnesota Rural Education and Resource Center in St. Charles benefits from food and money collected in St. Charles.