Women's History Month: Remembering Gwen Egan
March is Women’s History Month. As we prepared to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Vinton County National Bank in 2017, we had the opportunity to chat with Gwen Egan, the first female employee at Salt Creek Valley Bank. Gwen has since passed away but we thought you would enjoy this walk down memory lane.
When Gwendolyn Dent Egan began working at Salt Creek Valley Bank in 1937, the landscape of the banking industry was decidedly masculine. Few women worked in banks and there were no other women at the Laurelville bank.
Many things have changed in the industry and the country in general since Gwen was a young woman starting her first day at a job that would become her career for many years. She was not just Salt Creek’s first female employee, she was the first female bank officer as well.
Fresh from high school, Gwen enrolled at Capitol University to study business but found herself homesick and unhappy. “Mom said I had to stay but Dad said I could come home as long as I did something else,” Gwen recalled.
At the time, the bank employed just two men – Elmer Strauss and Joe White. “Dad knew Mr. Armstrong, the Bank President, so he went to see him. He asked Mr. Armstrong if he didn’t need a girl in that office,” she laughed. “Mr. Armstrong talked to the board and that’s how I got the job!”
That’s how Salt Creek Valley Bank hired their first female employee. “After that we had a lot of women employees. Most were very good but I was the only one for a while,” Gwen said.
Her first job was to run checks through a posting machine. “I remember that thing was a real antique, all the way back then!” she exclaimed. Another big part of her job was waiting on customers. “We had some very nice customers. You got to know everyone working at the bank.”
While modern banks are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, for the early part of her career, banking tools were basic. “Everything was recorded in a big ledger. After we balanced out for the day, I did the book work. There was a ledger I wrote it all in,” she explained. A typewriter, adding machine and pencil were the other tools of the trade used during her early career.
In 2016, at age 97, she claimed her memory was failing but she recalled the names and family trees of many coworkers and shared a host of stories about the town and the bank. “There were a lot of good times and there were some bad,” she said recalling friends of old, girlhood hours at the skating rink and the terrible flood of 1968 that threatened the town’s future.
She discussed how the flood waters reached countless homes in town and how everyone pitched in to help with clean up and recovery, saying that even inmates from the state penitentiary were sent to help clean up. “We got the town cleaned up and went back to work,” she said.
But Gwen has many positive memories as well. Since the bank closed on Thursdays, she recalls how she spent her Thursday afternoons. “When we closed on Thursdays, away I went to Columbus to shop at Lazarus. I just loved that Lazarus store in downtown. I know I spent too much money on clothes over the years but I loved them and my husband never complained,” she said with a chuckle. “The bank didn’t have a strict dress code but I always tried to look nice.”
By the time she retired, the banking industry had changed a great deal and the Salt Creek Valley Bank was changing with it. “When I first went to work, if someone came in and wanted to borrow a little money and you knew them, you would just write the note out. But it got to be you just couldn’t do that anymore. Times certainly changed,” she said.
One thing that never changes, according to Gwen, is the flow of customers who need their community bank. “I miss the people. I loved the people. I liked to talk to people and always tried to be real nice to everyone. After all, you have to be a friend to have a friend.”
Gwen retired in 1983, after 46 years of service to the bank and community. She still lives in the home she was born in and the one she shared with her late husband Howard Egan. “This is home. I hope to never leave,” Gwen said.