Throughout its history the officers and employees of the Stock Growers Bank have been very active in civic, church and community organizations. Gilman Klefstad, former President and Chairman of the Board of Sargent County Bank, served as both Representative, and later Senator, to the North Dakota State Legislature. Our community involvement is just one way we can effect improvements to benefit not only the present populace, but future generations as well. Our goal is summed up best in a New Year’s Day advertisement from December 30th, 1940.
“We wish to thank our many patrons for their business, which has been much appreciated the past year. We trust in some small way, we have been of some help and some service to you all. We would indeed feel that the past year would have been a failure for us, if we have not made some contribution for the betterment of our people and our community. That has been our aim in the past, and will be our aim and purpose in the future.”
Origins of the Bank
It was the turn of the last century, the year 1900. People were flocking to North Dakota. The railroads were expanding to meet the needs of a growing population. Towns seemed to boom into existence over night; businesses as well. Almost every town had at least one bank – many supported two or more. Amid all this growth, the Havana State Bank opened its doors in April 1900.
The stock market crash in the late 1920’s signaled a decline of this economic growth. Over-speculation of stock investments, poor crops and severe drought all contributed to the closing of many banks nationwide. Several never opened their doors again, leaving their depositors empty-handed. Some closed temporarily to effect a re-organization to recover at least part of their depositor’s holdings. In November 1930, their customers’ welfare a major concern, the Directors of the Havana State Bank voted to close temporarily to reorganize. In June 1931 the bank re-opened with 24 new stockholders, several of which had names that are still familiar in the area, such as Brummond, Barbknecht, Lyle and Weber. The directors of the new bank included Gilman A. Klefstad, President, W. W. Hastings, Vice President, C. E.Castle as Cashier, W. E. Kriesel and Chris Weber.
By January 1932 under this new management the Havana State Bank showed a profit. In August 1932 C. E. Castle resigned, leaving Gilman Klefstad to act as both President and Cashier. In October 1932 the directors hired Helen Kriesel as bookkeeper/teller. These two were the only employees of the bank for all of 1933.
The year 1933 ushered in a rash of bank robberies throughout the area. The Havana State Bank was a prime target. On April 17,1933, at 11:30 AM, three men pulled up in front of the bank. Two men walked into the bank, demanded all the cash, locked Ms. Kriesel and Mr. Klefstad in the vault and drove south out of Havana. They made away with almost $8,000.00. Mr. Klefstad opened the vault doors with some tools left in the vault and called the authorities, but the thieves eluded them.
Then on June 20th, 1933, two months later, the bank was robbed again, this time the bandits made off with only $800.00. Ms. Kriesel recognized one of the men as having been involved in the first robbery. This time, they made Mr. Klefstad lie on the floor, while they took Ms. Kriesel with them. She stood on the running board of their getaway vehicle while they drove out of town. Just on the outskirts of Havana they let her off and made their escape.
The Move North
Despite the robberies and the economic decline of the area, the Havana State Bank remained a stable and secure institution. On January 14th, 1937, a merger took place where the Havana State Bank took over the Bank of Sargent County, located in Forman. As a result of the merger the Havana State Bank changed the name on its charter to the Sargent County Bank and moved its headquarters to Forman, the County Seat. It maintained a branch in Havana for a short time until the move was finished.
The new Sargent County Bank moved into the old First National Bank building on Main Street. Gilman Maltrud, Cashier of the Bank of Sargent County, retained his position with the new bank. Gilman Klefstad remained as President. George Heitman, an experienced banker from Eden, SD, was hired as Assistant Cashier. The directors of the newly formed Sargent County Bank were Gilman Klefstad, W. W. Hastings and W. E. Kriesel.
Through the following decades the Sargent County Bank continued its growth. At the end of 1940 its assets were over $350,000.00. By December 1942 they had more than doubled. In 1943 they were over $1,000,000.00. During this time people of the area came to trust Sargent County Bank. Its history proved it to be a reliable and secure institution which constantly had its customer’s financial well-being in mind.
In 1958, construction started on a new building, the old building being too small and in need of major repairs. The grand re-opening occurred in the spring of 1959, revealing a modern, more spacious environment. This building served the community until 1983, when, foreseeing the future of computerization, more office and work space, a drive-up window and a larger lobby were added. In the summer of 2020 the location was remodeled to accommodate the changes in computer technology.
In 1978 after forty-seven years as bank president, Gilman Klefstad relinquished his title to his son, Harlan. Gilman maintained the title of Chairman of the Board until his death in 1993. The next year Harlan retired as president, naming his son-in-law, Steven McLaen, as his successor. Harlan maintained his position as Chairman of the Board to until his death in 2015.
In 1947 E. G. Melroe started his manufacturing plant in Gwinner with a work force of 12 men. As the Melroe Company expanded, the directors of the Sargent County Bank recognized the need for a banking facility in Gwinner to accommodate their growing patronage from that community. The bank purchased a lot on Main Street and built the Sargent County Bank – Gwinner Station, which opened its doors in 1960 with Gilman Maltrud as branch manager. Arnold Lecy took over this position in 1962 and Lawrence Petterson in 1964. Since then, the Gwinner branch has seen three managers: Frank Pearson(1970-1972); Larry Bartz (1972-1996); Terrance Euscher (1996-2015); and Jeff Anderson (2015-present). In 1987 to meet the demand for computer equipment space, a larger work area and a drive-up facility, the Sargent County Bank bought the corner lot where Brun’s Grocery Store once stood. A new, modern building with a dark brick facade now greets our customers in that community.
In order to facilitate banking transactions for customers from communities to the south and east of Forman, in 1976 the Sargent County Bank built a branch office in Rutland. The first branch manager was Karen Christianson, a native of Rutland. In 1978 Margaret Scheller came from Forman to take over this position. Dawn Mahrer became the next Rutland manager in 1986 after Margaret Scheller retired. In 1989 Mary Woytassek assumed this position. Mary Woytassek retired in 2006 and Shawn Klein was named branch manager. In 2017, Sargent County Bank acquired First National Bank, with locations in Milnor and Lisbon. Sargent Bankshares, Inc. President and CEO Steven McLaen said “FNB is a locally-owned banking organization that shares our corporate values and emphasis on community banking and community reinvestment. Bringing our two companies together gives us the opportunity to expand our market in Ransom and Sargent County. This acquisition will create long-term value for both our companies, our customers, employees and communities.” In 2020 Sargent County Bank merged with Stock Growers of Napoleon ND. Due to its multi county presence the decision was made to officially retire Sargent County Bank’s name and adapt the Stock Growers Bank’s name. Stock Growers Bank now has $290,000,000 in assets, six locations, and thirty-eight employees.