First National Bank of Fort Smith celebrated its sesquicentennial anniversary Thursday (March 17) with an announcement that it is donating $500,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Fort Smith for expansion and renovation of the Jeffery Club at 4905 N. O St.
The club will expand with a 4,100-square-feet addition and complete renovation of its 11,226 club, said Travis Beshears with Beshears Construction, a member of the FSBGC Board of Directors. The renovation and expansion, which will add an administration wing and make room for a new music and dance area for the members as well as an art studio and innovation lab, will cost about $3 million. Sam Sicard, president and CEO of FNB and president of the FSBGC Board of Directors, said about $1.4 million has been raised so far.
“We enjoy investing in our community. We enjoy investing back in people we believe in. We also believe in investing in organizations that we believe in. We also, I would add, believe our youth is the investment that gives us the longest return on our investment,” Sicard said of the bank’s donation to the club capital campaign.
Sicard said when you say you are a community bank, you have to acknowledge that community comes first. He said that is what FNB has tried to do over the past 150 years, through donations supporting local organizations and projects.
“We have to recognize that this community has been very generous to us and we need to reciprocate to show our gratitude,” Sicard said. “We’ve been blessed with a financial situation where we are able to give back to the community, and that’s what we want to do.”
‘TEST OF TIME’
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who as a private attorney once had an office in the bank building, was on hand Thursday to celebrate the bank’s historic birthday.
“This bank has survived during the Great Depression, during world wars, during economic ups and downs. It takes great leadership. It takes the support of the community for a bank to survive and recognize how important a financial institution is to the growth (of the community). This bank has been key to the growth, not just here in Fort Smith, but now the (Arkansas) river valley and western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma,” Hutchinson said.
Fort Smith Mayor George McGill called FNB the bank of the people of the Fort Smith region.
“When we say it’s an institution, we mean more than banking. We mean an institution that is kind, an institution that gives back to the community it serves, and an institution that has stood the test of time,” McGill said.
First National Bank of Fort Smith was organized Feb. 29, 1872, as “The National Bank of Western Arkansas.” A charter was issued by the Comptroller of the Currency, authorizing the bank to commence business on March 22, 1872, three years before U.S. Judge Isaac Parker came to Fort Smith.
“But it’s really hard to celebrate our birthday because it was organized on a leap year,” Sicard joked at the bank’s 150th celebration Thursday evening.
BANK HISTORY, EXPANSION
The bank was established by Bernard Baer, Logan Roots, Richard Kerens, Elis Mitchell, Dr. E. R. Duvall, and Arthur Gunther, the bank’s website states. In 1888, the bank moved from the corner of Garrison Avenue and Court Streets to a brick building at Sixth Street and Garrison Avenue, where it remains today. The eight-story white brick building the bank occupies today was built in 1909. In 1888, the bank also changed its name to First National Bank of Fort Smith.
“To take a look at history: No. 1, we’re a day older than the country’s first national park (Yellowstone National Park). It would have been pretty cool to share a birthday with them, but we beat them by a day,” Sicard said.
In 1870, the population of Sebastian County was 12,940. In 1872, a couple of months after the bank was first formed, FNB’s total assets were $103,305 with around $22,000 in deposits. The bank is now at $1.84 billion in total assets and $1.63 billion in deposits. First Bank Corp., FNB’s holding company, has $2.8 billion in assets.
“And that’s not all inflation,” Sicard joked. “A little bit of it is.”
Employment has grown from just a few bankers to now more than 500.
In 1925, A.N. Sicard, son-in-law of Samuel McLoud, the bank’s third president, was elected president. He was succeeded by his son McCloud Sicard, as president in 1942. His son Samuel M. Sicard was elected president in 1977, and his son Sam T. Sicard was elected president in 2011.
In 1989, First Bank Corp. was formed as the parent holding company of The First National Bank of Fort Smith. Since that time, National Bank of Sallisaw; Citizens Bank and Trust Company in Van Buren; First National Bank of NWA; Central National Bank of Poteau; Brown-Hiller-Clark & Associates; and Realty Appraisals, Inc. have been added to the First Bank Corp. company, the bank’s website states.