MY FIFTEEN YEARS AT THE CITIZENS BANK
By Gertrude Wildes Johnson
In November of 1925 I was enrolled in Jacksonville Business College and at that time was in advanced courses. The school had calls from time to time for temporary steno work and I was asked to fill in often – they were always checked out before Mr. Beale would let us go – and I made good tips which helped me a lot in my expenses.
One day Mr. William Mizell called me at by brother’s house and wanted to come down on Saturday and talk to me about a job. I definitely did not want a job in a bank – I knew not the first thing about banking. But he and Mr. Mallard came and talked me into trying it for just thirty days. He said if I went to school ever so long I would still have to learn his method if I worked there.
I made arrangements at the school to come back after thirty days and pick up where I left off. Well, I stayed in that bank fifteen years. My beginning salary was $50.00 per month and I was making $100.00 per month when I resigned. That was just before Mary Ann was born. He asked me to come back after she came but I had other things by then and could not, moreover, I did not want to, my baby and husband had to take precedence over everything else.
To say I did not know the first thing about banking would be an understatement – I had never been in a bank before then.
At that time the bank was located in a “hole in the wall” across from the McDonald House and where John Adams has his law office now.
My first day, Mr. William Mizell, Sr. took me under his supervision. Mr. Mizell, Jr. and Albert, his brother, were busy running the bank.
Mr. Mizell, Sr. took me to a large room in the back of the building which was a conference and general use room. There was a long table in the middle with chairs around it. On the table was a pile of white money bags. I found out later they were filled with money, mostly half-dollars. At that time the bridge over the St. Marys River was a toll bridge and a Mr. Rogers was the bridge-keeper. Soon after then Mr. Owen Wilson became toll keeper. They brought the money in every day and dumped it on that table. There was no one to count it, and frankly no one wanted to do it. I had never seen so much money in all my life and the only way I knew how to handle it was put it out in piles of one to five dollars. That was about as high as I could go counting money!
Well, Mr. Mizell, Sr. helped me get all the change in separate piles, from dollars to pennies, and the bills sorted out in piles of ones and fives mostly. Then came the counting – paper money first. I had a special book to list it all in and then put it in the vault. I wish I could remember the amount of all that money but each day another bag or two was brought in and I had a time getting caught up, with Mr. Mizell, Sr.’s help. That was my job number one!
Next came another experience. Mr. Mizell, Jr. decided he just had to get his correspondence caught up. He knew no more about dictating a letter than I did, but I did have some school experience in taking dictation in shorthand and transcribing it. Still we had many letters to re-dictate and re-write. That got old fast!
We finally got that caught up and I was allowed to work the window under supervision. Mostly I took care of deposits made by Mr. McDonald who had the hotel, Mr. Alexander, Mr. Paxton, Mr. H.J. Davis, Mr. Rodgers and one or two others, all of whom had stores. We still had to make out their deposit tickets, listing all checks and money. Later the bank passed a ruling that they must make their own deposit ticket and then I only had to check it. There was one merchant, who was my great uncle, who would not let me wait on him. Said he did not want “children” handling his money. I was a seventeen year old by then and very much an adult! That was “Uncle Bud Altman”.
Uncle Bud was one of my favorite customers and I think he grew to trust me. He would wait around sometimes just so I would be free to check his deposit. In 1940 I told Mr. Mizell that I was going to have a baby and did not feel like I could adequately handle both jobs. Word got around and Uncle Bud came in one day and handed me a little package. It was a beautiful handkerchief. That was his way of showing his trust and appreciation. I told him I would not be back in the bank and he cried. That was probably one of the few gifts anyone ever got from Uncle Bud. He had the reputation of being “stingy”. I did appreciate it and still have it.
Sometime in 1926 they started building a bank on Main Street across the railroad from where we were. The building is still there but many changes have taken place since then. The bank where I worked was formally opened in 1927 and we had a big opening ceremony with refreshments. No business was transacted on that day.
We had many improvements including rest rooms and space. Also James Wrench who had been a part-time employee was hired full time, easing the pressure on me. We had a posting machine, hand operated, but it beat pen and ink. We still had to post notes and savings accounts by hand. We also added two hand-operated adding machines.
Our bookkeeping was mostly by hand. We had a large General Ledger that we put everything in daily. These figures were later transferred to more permanent and departmentalized ledgers. The General Ledger had all deposits (total), note payments, etc. on the left side; and loans, checks, etc. on the right. That book must be balanced every day, also our money, checks, deposits, etc. that came through the windows. We could not start posting until all was balanced. Sometimes that was a problem.
The bank prospered. It was then The Citizens Bank. When its total assets went over a half million dollars we had a reception and invited all friends and customers. Refreshments were served in the lobby, whites at the front table and blacks at the back. Eula Bell Stafford and Lillie Burgin Moore made cakes and took care of the colored folks. I made a cake and several others made cakes and we had punch. For favors and mementos the bank gave out bullet shaped pencils and memo pads. Lots of flowers were sent.
The bank opened a branch bank at Nahunta and Albert transferred up there and ran it. I don’t remember what year it was opened but it must have been after 1927.
Our bookkeeping increased so rapidly that they finally bought an electric bookkeeping machine. It was a big help to James and me who had been struggling trying to keep up with that department.
There were a good many employees from time to time but I guess the most memorable in my time were Mr. Boyd, who was the silent type but was always there and most always knew the answer to any of our problems; also James Wrench, who had seniority over me. He was a part-time employee before my time. There was Jasper Stokes who did not stay long before transferring to Nahunta. Also there was always Mr. “Billy”, who very efficiently ran the business. He had the reputation of not being easy to get along with, but I found him honest and fair in his dealings, sometimes a little too tight or I should say “conservative” with his money, to his own detriment at times. I was scared to death of him at first but grew to be very fond of him.
We never did experience a holdup or a run on the bank, however once the U.S. Government forced all banks to close for three days. They called it a Moratorium and it was probably in the 1930s. Frankly I never did really understand it, but we could not even go in the bank. Of course, all sorts of rumors were circulated and many of the customers were afraid of losing their savings. I felt for them and so did Mr. Mizell. When we were free to open up, there were lines at each window, some bringing in their deposits but many wanted their money. We were instructed to pay it to them if they really wanted it. A few withdrew all their money but before the day was over, brought it back. They were afraid to keep it and afraid to leave it. It was a very tense time. We had police, in the bank and outside, because a lot of banks in other places had holdups and other troubles. Fortunately we did not.
Mr. Mallard and Mr. Frank Mills were hired to just be in the lobby and ensure some of the customers that we had the money to pay off every customer if that was what they wanted. Some of them had to SEE the money and we would let them come in the vault and see for themselves. They were people we knew well. Mr. Mizell, Sr. also was in his office in the lobby to lend his assistance. Just his presence was a big influence.
I remember one elderly man who would not listen to anyone. I was waiting on him and he listened to me and then said he WANTED HIS MONEY, EVERY CENT OF IT! I fixed it up and gave it to him. I really hated to see him leave the bank with it but I realized he was scared of losing it. His transportation was a mule and wagon and he seemed to me a prize target for a robber. I told him we would keep the bank open until five o’clock that day and if he decided to bring it back I would be mighty glad. About a quarter of five he came back and did not want to redeposit it but just wanted to leave it in the vault. I fixed him up with a safety deposit box and he left satisfied. I don’t know how long he kept it that way but eventually he put it back on savings so he could draw that interest. We paid 4 ½ % compounded quarterly- big deal! That was in line with banks larger than ours.
That was really a terrifying time for all of us. We did not lose a single account that I recall. Those who drew it out that day brought it back within a short time. Of course that made a lot of extra, unnecessary work for us but that was all in the game and the scare soon blew over and I believe the bank profited from the experience.
In 1946 Mr. Mizell asked me to come back to the bank as Cashier. We had just bought the general store from Mr. White and were in the process of opening up a hardware store. So I was too tied up in that to make a change at that time, but I felt flattered to know that he thought I could do it. I considered him one of my very best friends as long as he lived.