Tim Vukelich Joins Merchants Bank as Mortgage Lender

Tim Vukelich, Mortgage Lender

Tim Vukelich has joined Merchants Bank as a Mortgage Lender, according to Dan Vlasak, President for Merchants Bank in Lakeville.

“Tim’s extensive background in mortgage lending will help him expertly guide our customers through the loan process. We know many people are interested in building, purchasing or mortgage refinancing right now and want to do our part to make the process easy,” said Vlasak.

Vukelich has been in banking for nearly 20 years in the Twin Cities market and was most recently a Senior Loan Officer for PNC Bank. With the majority of his career spent in the mortgage lending area, he is familiar with both traditional and specialized mortgage loan programs.

“I enjoy assisting customers in achieving their mortgage goals and meeting their mortgage needs. I take great pride in providing excellent customer service to create a great experience throughout the mortgage process,” said Vukelich.

Vukelich grew up in Duluth and has lived in Rosemount for nearly 10 years. He enjoys working out, live sports and going to concerts. He is looking forward to becoming more active in the Rosemount community through volunteer and networking efforts.

The Merchants Bank Mortgage team is comprised of nearly 20 local mortgage lenders, available throughout our regional footprint, backed by our in-house mortgage processing, underwriting and loan servicing teams. In addition to traditional mortgage loans, Merchants mortgage lenders can assist with mortgage pre-approval, construction loans, and specialized mortgage programs such as VA, FHA, Rural Development and more available through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We’re committed to being there for our customers after loan closing and service nearly $2.6 billion in mortgage loans annually.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 23 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.5 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875. Loans are subject to credit approval.

Congratulations, New and Promoted Staff

We are happy to have these new employees on our team! If you’re interested in working with these local experts, find your branch.

New Staff

Megan BreithauptMegan Breithaupt, Teller, Hampton
Amy BrinkAmy Brink, Residential Appraisal Specialist, Winona
Beth BrinkBeth Brink, Mortgage Loan Processor, Winona
Neil CourrierNeil Courrier, Accounts Payable Specialist, Winona
Lily CrispLily Crisp, Teller, Hastings
Andrea DolanAndrea Dolan, Teller Administrator & Customer Service Representative, Cannon Falls
Atinaf EjiguAtinaf Ejigu, Lead Teller & Customer Service Representative, Cottage Grove
Alanda GrossAlanda Gross, Underwriter, Winona
Jeff LisowskiJeff Lisowski, Maintenance Specialist, Winona
Tyler MaruskaTyler Maruska, Teller, Winona – Lakeside
Stephanie OverbyStephanie Overby, Mortgage Loan Processor, Northfield
Laurie PriorLaurie Prior, Customer Service Representative, Northfield
Cari RitterCari Ritter, Loan Servicing Representative, Winona
Dominique UbelDominique Ubel, Teller, Rosemount
Jacob ValkJacob Valk, Teller, Onalaska
Tim VukelichTim Vukelich, Mortgage Lender, Lakeville
Kenzie WeimerskirchKenzie Weimerskirch, Teller, Gooodview

Transfers and Promotions

Bridgette HallcockBridgette Hallcock, Personal Banker, Northfield
Juliene HansonJuliene Hanson, Administrative Assistant & Customer Service Representative, Northfield
Gary JohnsonGary Johnson, Audit Compliance Specialist & Officer, Red Wing
Tracy JohnsonTracy Johnson, Teller, Cannon Falls
Amanda KingAmanda King, Assistant Controller, Winona
Chris LivingstonChris Livingston, Assistant Vice President & Retirement Plan Director, Winona
Casey McCarraherCasey McCarraher, Customer Service Representative & Teller, St. Charles
Ashley MichelAshley Michel, Bank Secrecy Act Officer, Northfield
Alyssa RoodAlyssa Rood, Information Security Analyst, Winona
Beverly SeppaBev Seppa, Workstation and Peripherals Technical Manager, Winona
Kaleb Storm, Assistant Vice President & Commercial Banker, Winona

Holiday Message and Company Update from CEO Greg Evans

This is the time of year to pause and give thanks. Given the tumult all of us have experienced throughout 2020, maybe simple words like thank you and have a nice day carry even greater meaning for this upcoming holiday season. Please know that our gratitude for the trust and confidence you continue to place in Merchants Bank has never been more heartfelt.

Lobby Access Restricted for the Safety of All

We made a very difficult decision earlier this month to suspend traditional business activity by again restricting customer access to our Bank lobbies because of the sustained surge and community spread of COVID-19 throughout our service area. As we did between March and June, we will facilitate all routine transactional activity through the drive-up banking facilities in our communities.  Bank lobby activity will be limited to necessary appointments, but our team will continue to be available as trusted advisors to meet your needs.

The only driver of this decision was our concern for the collective health and safety of our employees, customers and communities. In many of our communities, the level of spread is significant. Because we have close relationships with many local health and long-term care providers, we are aware of very real capacity and staffing concerns that many of them are dealing with because of surge impact of the virus. Our response to the pandemic has been governed throughout by our servant leadership commitment to all stakeholders. At this time, we felt this was the responsible action to take in support of the well-being of our communities.

We’re Here to Help With Your Hopes and Dreams

At Merchants Bank, our team members relish the opportunities we are given to serve. We do this in many ways, inspired by our mission to help our customers and communities fulfill hopes and dreams. Helping you realize financial hopes and dreams for yourself, your family and/or your business is why we exist, and we will continue to pursue the mission with zeal even while our traditional service delivery model is disrupted at this time.

As we embark on the last few weeks of 2020, please know how much we value your business and, more importantly, your friendship. We all have been impacted by challenges and uncertainties throughout the course of the year. Through it all, though, I have been constantly reminded by tremendous goodness that continues to show up all around me when I take the time to see it. I sincerely believe that if you make the time to find it, you will see that goodness, too. 

Wishing You All The Best

My personal list of hopes and dreams includes a genuine wish that you and your family, friends and neighbors remain safe and healthy. Thank you for your business and the tremendous opportunity you have given Merchants Bank to serve you. We will continue to do our best to serve you in an exceptional manner while also working hard to try and keep our communities healthy and safe, because we are community members too.

Please accept my genuine wish for a blessed holiday season. And, as we close out 2020, know that we will look ahead to a new year with tremendous excitement and optimism.  

Stay safe, be well and Happy Holidays!

Retiring Market President Steve Christiansen Reflects on Nearly 30 Years with Merchants

Steve Christiansen started his financial career in 1979 before coming to Merchants Bank in 1990. Steve spent time as a Commercial Banker, a Business Development Officer and most recently the Market President for our Onalaska and La Crescent branches. He also served as a Board Member for four years. After nearly 30 years of service to Merchants, Steve will retire on December 1, 2020 and before his last day reflected on his career.

Q: What is one of your fondest memories of working at Merchants?

I vividly remember opening our Onalaska branch in 2003…just the energy, the people that came to celebrate it and knowing how much hard work was put into it. It was a very exciting time.

Another wonderful memory is from one of the earliest 10 Days of Giving campaigns when my daughters presented the ceremonial first gift of food. It’s so neat to see that campaign grow over the last 30+ years.

Q: Do you have any fun stories you’d like to share?

I’ve been here many years, so it’s hard to identify a single story. But really what makes this job fun is the people: the customers you get to work with, learning about their business and what they do day-to-day. There are so many unique businesses out there and it’s a privilege to learn about their expertise and help them thrive.

Q: What makes Merchants special?

It really comes down to the people. You need people to make things happen, and it’s the employees, the board members and of course the customers that really make the Merchants culture so special. I don’t know that many places feel as much like a family as Merchants does.

Q: Why did you decide to spend most of your career with Merchants?

There are many reasons, but the biggest one is that I had opportunities. I was able to grow, to move to different areas, to learn, adjust, meet more people. Over 20 years, I’ve kept having great experiences and getting out into our community and making a positive difference in people’s lives was always supported. That’s an important piece for me.

Q: What wisdom do you want to leave your Merchants family with? 

Simply: focus on people. Your customers, your team, those in your community. All we can do is genuinely care about each other. The extent to which we do that – care – is a big piece of our Merchants culture and part of what makes us unique.

It really all comes down to practicing the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated.

Q: What are you excited about for Merchants Future?

When I started at Merchants, it was a $250 million organization. Today, our assets are over $2 billion. The growth we’ve been able to see is tremendous, and I’m excited to see where and how Merchants continues to grow and adapt to our changing world.

Jennifer Welch Named 10 Days of Giving Chair

Jennifer Welch, 10 Days of Giving Chair

Jennifer Welch has again been named the Chair for Merchants Bank’s 2020 10 Days of Giving food drive, which runs December 1-10. The effort, which benefits food shelf programs operated by Winona Volunteer Services (WVS), will be celebrating its 32nd year. To date, more than 3.7 million pounds of food have been collected.

“We are dedicated to serving our Winona community, no matter the current conditions. We are thankful for the generosity of the Winona community over the last 31 years in supporting this annual campaign to help those who have needs in our community,” said Regional President Andrew Guzzo.

This year there will still be a variety of special events that can be conducted safely, including a Pack the Bus to Drive Out Hunger event on December 5 in the Merchants Bank – Downtown parking lot. The Friday Night Fish Fry will be held on December 4 by offering exclusively takeout orders from Eagles Club #1243. Last year’s campaign raised 236,495 pounds of food for WVS.

“While we had to re-think how we were going to do this campaign this year, there is still a very real need that our friends and neighbors in this community have for the support that WVS provides. It is an honor to be the Chair for this campaign and a privilege to work with our incredible team and community that makes this event a success,” Welch said. Welch is a Customer Service Representative as well as the Bank’s Events and Adventures Coordinator. This is her seventh year leading the coordination of the campaign.

There continues to be a need in the area. So far in 2020, Winona Volunteer Services helped over 700 households through their food shelf or emergency food services.

More than ever this year, monetary donations will be the safest and most efficient way to support WVS. Monetary donations can be made out to 10 Days of Giving and mailed to, or dropped off at Merchants Bank, 102 E. 3rd Street, Winona, MN 55987. If you would like to make a donation online, visit the Winona Volunteer Services website: http://www.winonavs.org. Indicate “10 Days of Giving” after entering your name. For questions, please call Jennifer Welch at (507) 457-1108.

The 10 Days of Giving food drive is an annual community collaboration between Merchants Bank and Winona Volunteer Services to make sure no one in Winona County goes hungry each winter. Since 1989, the drive has collected more than 3.7 million pounds of food and helped thousands of people in Winona County. In addition to the Winona drive, other Merchants Bank locations partner with their respective local food shelf in a similar effort. To learn more about the 10 Days of Giving in your area, visit www.merchantsbank.com/10daysofgiving.

Merchants’ Solid Earnings Report Allows for Dividend Declaration

Greg Evans, President & CEO

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) has announced financial results for the third quarter and a forthcoming dividend payment to shareholders, according to MFGI President & CEO Gregory M. Evans.

As a result of solid earnings performance, the MFGI Board of Directors authorized retention of a semiannual dividend of 75 cents per share to shareholders during its October meeting. Dividends will be paid in December to shareholders of record as of November 20, 2020.

“Despite economic challenges, Merchants’ reputation as a trusted advisor for families, businesses and community partners has resulted in steady earnings for the third quarter. Our top priority remains working with customers and in our communities to be a resource of assistance and support during these difficult times,” said Evans.

Earnings through the third quarter were $14,717,981, which were $821,640 ahead of MFGI’s 2020 plan and $250,000 ahead of 2019 third-quarter performance. Quarterly earnings were profitable for MFGI even though the Company reversed $3.2 million out of income in the form of additional Allowance for Loan/Lease Loss Reserves as a precautionary measure due to possible future economic uncertainties.

MFGI’s residential mortgage lending operation continues to be the main driver of positive earnings results, with origination volume of $713.6 million and a net income contribution $6.97 million ahead of plan through the first three quarters. In addition, deposit growth continues to be strong, with year-over-year growth of 28% for total deposits of $2.3 billion.

In September, Merchants also participated in the Minnesota Bankers Association’s Community Impact Month initiative with more than half of the Company’s Minnesota locations coordinating community support events. From highway clean ups and free document shredding to a clothing drive, locations selected the efforts that had specific benefits to their local communities. While community support is a Merchants’ focus year-round, it was a privilege to highlight these specific events during the month.

The ownership of Merchants Financial Group, Inc. is made up of its more than 440 employees and its shareholders, mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 21 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.5 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875. Member FDIC.

Kaleb Storm Promoted to Assistant Vice President/Commercial & Ag Banker at Merchants Bank

Kaleb Storm, AVP/Commercial & Ag Banker

Kaleb Storm has been promoted to Assistant Vice President/Commercial & Ag Banker at Merchants Bank, according to Steve Christopherson, Senior Vice President & Commercial Banking Manager.

“Kaleb has really earned this position. He has shown strong leadership skills, an understanding of our community and has been instrumental in our customers’ success as they grow,” said Christopherson.

Storm has been with Merchants as a Commercial & Ag Banker since April 2018. Since coming to Merchants, Storm has served Winona in more ways than financing local businesses. He also contributes his time to the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce both as an Ambassador as well as serving on the Agri-Business Committee, teaching Junior Achievement classes for area schools and with community-focused causes like 10 Days of Giving.

“It has been a privilege to serve the Winona community. I’m very fortunate to work with our wonderful customers and this incredible team. I look forward to continuing to be a trusted advisor and resource for businesses as we all work toward economic recovery,” said Storm.

The Merchants Bank Commercial Lending team is comprised of more than 40 local experts, available throughout our regional footprint. In addition to traditional commercial loans, Merchants bankers specialize in ag banking, SBA loans, floor plan financing and equipment lease financing. As a regional banking leader, Merchants can assist businesses of any size with their business financing needs, including Treasury Management and deposit services.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 21 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.5 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875. Loans are subject to credit approval.

Amanda King Promoted to Assistant Controller at Merchants Bank

Amanda King, Assistant Controller

Amanda King has been promoted to Assistant Controller at Merchants Bank, according to Sue Savat, Chief Financial Officer.

“Amanda is a cornerstone of the Finance team and continues to grow in her role as our company grows. This promotion is a reflection of her expertise and dedication to serving our staff just as we would a Merchants Bank customer,” said Savat.

King has been with Merchants Bank for more than two decades, beginning her career as a Teller in 1998. She joined the Finance Department in 2002 as a Reports Specialist and over the last 18 years she has been promoted to Accounting Specialist and most recently Senior Accounting Specialist.

“I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to grow in my career over last 20 years at Merchants. We have a wonderful team and I enjoy supporting them, so they can support our customers,” King.

Amanda lives in Caledonia on a farm with her husband, Luke, and their four daughters, Jovial, Regan, Kensey and Bayla.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 21 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.5 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875.

Rachel Larson Promoted to Manager of Collections at Merchants Bank

Rachel Larson. Manager of Collections

Rachel Larson has been promoted to Manager of Collections at Merchants Bank, according to Mark McGrory, Chief Credit Officer.

“Rachel is the perfect fit to lead our Collections team. Not only does she understand the risk management side of our business, but as a 20-year veteran on the Merchants Bank team she knows our culture and understands that taking care of our customers is what makes Merchants Bank a great community bank,” said McGrory.

Larson has been with Merchants Bank since 1999 and as an integral part of the Bank’s Audit/Compliance team for the past 16 years, most recently as a Risk Management Officer. Larson also graduated from Merchants’ home-grown leadership program, the I Believe Leadership Series, in 2019.

In her new role as Manager of Collections, she will work with individual loan customers who are experiencing financial hardship and help them with an appropriate workout plan. As an area that affects the overall credit quality of the Bank, Larson and the Collections team will help maintain the asset quality of the Bank by finding workable solution for these customers.

“This new role provides me with the opportunity to interact with customers in a much more personal way and provide the caring service approach that’s in alignment with the Merchants culture. I’m looking forward to assisting customers as possible with solutions for their individual needs,” Larson.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 21 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.5 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875.

Meet Ellen Morehouse, Credit Support Manager

Ellen Morehouse joined Merchants Bank in May of 2011. She started as a Credit Analyst and is now Credit Support Manager. Sometimes these titles can sound a little vague. What is it that Credit Support professionals do at a bank? Ellen provides some context.

Ellen, can you explain what the Credit Support team does?

Sure! The credit support team helps our consumer and commercial lenders keep track of documentation, making sure it’s all accurate and keeping an eye on all the details, really.

One way to break it down is I oversee “Credit Support,” which can be broken up into three departments: the Appraisal and Evaluation Team, the Importing and Reporting Team and the Post-Closing team.

  • The Appraisal and Evaluation Team orders property appraisals and makes sure we operate within legal compliance there.
  • The Importing and Reporting Team makes sure all loan paperwork we need to retain and track are in our systems accurately.
  • The Post-Closing Team takes care of any necessary reporting or documentation after a loan is closed.

What do you like most about your job?

I love the variety. One of the things we really keep an eye on is how all the different areas of credit support work together and how we’re making sure our processes are efficient so that the lenders can work with their customers in a timely manner.

It also helps a lot to have a great team! We all work well together and have a lot of fun along the way.

You were previously a Credit Analyst and now the Credit Support Manager. Beyond the change in job title, how have you grown in your time with Merchants?

I was fortunate to participate in our internal leadership development program, the I Believe Leadership Series, Class of 2019 -2020. That experience really taught me the importance of being able to always come back to a positive mindset.

My biggest takeaway that I do every day now is identify three things I’m grateful for each morning. There’s science that shows that focusing on what you’re grateful for can help keep your mental game strong.

I think that’s something important that I bring to the team, is a positivity that even when the going gets tough, we know how to keep our chin up and get through it all together.