Familiar faces in new places

Community National Bank & Trust will replace its bank president, as Tom Strickler takes over from Jim Gilpin as part of a succession plan. Patience Simpson has been promoted to senior Vice President of commercial lending.

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January 6, 2021 - 10:09 AM

From left, Tom Strickler has been tapped as the next president at Iola’s Community National Bank & Trust branch. He replaces Jim Gilpin, right, who is “semi-retiring.” Also earning a promotion is Patience Simpson, center. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Changes are afoot at Iola’s Community National Bank & Trust, with a trio of long-time bankers earning new duties.

Most prominently, Tom Strickler is replacing Jim Gilpin as bank president, although Gilpin will stay on at CNB in a part-time capacity as part of his “semi-retirement.”

Patience Simpson has been promoted to senior vice president of commercial lending.

The transition has been in the works for several years, Gilpin noted.

“It works well when you have a succession plan,” Gilpin said. “It’s helped everybody in terms of making necessary arrangements.”

STRICKLER got his start in banking at what was Allen County State Bank, now the site of Emprise Bank.

His original intention was to give it a try for a few years before entering the family business, Strickler Dairy, along with brothers Steve and Doug. Strickler is the son of the late Ivan and Madge Strickler.

His plans changed while en route to earning an ag economics degree at Kansas State University. Strickler graduated from Iola High School in 1972.

While still in college, Strickler was attending the Allen County Fair one day when Iolan Bill Mentzer — himself a farmer-turned-banker — offered young Strickler a job at the bank.

“I never will forget the interview,” Strickler said, with Allen County Bank and Trust officers Ray Pershall, Bill James and Mentzer.  

“I think I can give you five years, but after that I’ll be back on the farm,” Strickler told them.

“I’ll never forget the smiles on their faces,” he continued. “They chuckled and looked at each other. I’m thinking, ‘What do these guys know that I don’t?’”

He soon figured it out.

While he enjoyed farm work, Strickler soon grew to appreciate the steady income banking afforded. “That monthly paycheck was kind of nice,” he laughed.

He worked for 15 years at what eventually became Emprise Bank, then moved to TeamBank for about nine years before he and Ken Gilpin agreed to open CNB in 2001.

TeamBank merged with the former Iola Bank & Trust in 1990.

The culture of the CNB organization was what convinced Strickler to take the plunge and open a new facility.

“It was nice to be a part of a good, growing organization that has the support Community National did,” he said.

AND while the Strickler name is synonymous with dairy farming in these parts, the Gilpin family is nearly as entrenched in local banking history.

Claude Gilpin — Jim’s grandfather — was a bank examiner in the Dust Bowl days, and even examined what then was Iola State Bank at one time, before purchasing it years later.

Armed with only an eighth-grade education at the time, Claude’s math skills nevertheless impressed all who met him.

He taught at a one-room schoolhouse near Centerville before World War I broke out when the local bank cashier was drafted into the military. That led Claude to join the banking business, until the old cashier returned and asked for his job back.

“My grandfather decided he liked banking more than teaching,” Jim Gilpin said. That led to his bank examiner job, and his dream of eventually buying controlling interest in a bank — Iola State Bank, it turned out.

After World War II, Howard Gilpin — Jim’s father — joined the Iola State Bank team.

Jim wasn’t certain he was going to join the family business as he served in the Air Force.

“My father said, ‘It’s going to take you 10 years to learn the business, so you’ll need to decide whether to get into it or do something else,’” he said.

Eventually, Jim decided banking was where his passion belonged as well.

In addition to lending, Gilpin was interested in the trust side of banking by helping people invest their earnings.

Iola State Bank eventually became TeamBank in 2001.

All was going well, until the real estate economic crisis hit the country in 2007 and 2008.

“It really wasn’t due to anything that happened at the Iola banking center, but our TeamBank main office got involved in a lot of real estate development loans, and when the bottom fell out of the real estate market in Kansas and other locations, the bank wasn’t able to recover,” Gilpin said.

The bank was taken over by the FDIC in 2009, and its interests sold to Great Southern Bank out of Springfield, Mo.

Great Southern’s lack of a trust department prompted Gilpin to cross the street and take a position at Community National, with the promise that he could develop a trust department there.

“Community National gave me the green light to apply for that charter,” Gilpin said.

As fate would have it, Dean Kennedy, who was attending Iola Junior College while Gilpin was a high school senior, had spent his career on the trust side of banking, and agreed to join CNB as well to get the trust department established.

“The timing was perfect,” Gilpin said. “He was nearing retirement, and came to work for us after we had our trust department open. He brought some of his trust people with him, and we’ve been growing ever since.”

Jim Gilpin ascended to bank president after Ken Gilpin’s retirement in 2014, at which time the succession plan to have Strickler replace Jim as bank president was put in place.

“Tom always has enjoyed the lending side, and he’s built up some great relationships,” Gilpin said. “I’d done the management side of things for 20 years before coming across the street. It was a pretty easy transition to take over for Ken. That way, Tom could continue building up our loan department, which he’s done.

“The fun part of that for me, was I started trust work part time, along with working on lending and then management.”

Now, after relinquishing his management and lending duties, Gilpin can again focus solely on the trust department. He’ll continue to work at CNB Wednesdays through Fridays.

And with Strickler now bank president, he’ll hand off a portion of his lending work to Miles Mentzer — grandson of former banker Bill Mentzer — who was hired at CNB about two years ago.

“It’s a relationship business, which is how we like to do it,” Gilpin said. “

“So many of Community National’s locations have started the same way this one was started,” Strickler added. “Get local bankers who have been in the community for years and years to open a new location. Community banking is what makes it successful. It’s been a good formula.”

SIMPSON’S promotion is the latest step in her nearly 20-year banking career that started not long after the CNB branch opened in Iola.

In addition to handling a large commercial loan portfolio, her experience includes deposit, loan and trust operations.

She worked her way through several departments, “to learn the ins and outs of the bank,” she said.

On top of working at Community National, the mother of two also took night classes to earn degrees in business and accounting from the University of Phoenix — a task that took about four years to accomplish — while also working at H&R Block.

“I don’t want to speak for her, but Patience has promoted herself with the work she’s done,” Strickler said, noting Simpson’s dedication reflects well on Community National’s M.O. “Get good, skilled people and let them advance.”

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