TORRINGTON – It’s not about the numbers for Steve Feagler.
It’s not about how many heads of cattle someone has, the truck they drive, or how big their bank account is.
It’s not about how he and a handful of co-workers grew First State Bank from a trailer into a trusted community partner housed inside a nice facility. He ran his family farm for over 20 years, but it’s not about that either.
What it’s about, Feagler said, is family.
“I think everybody’s legacy is their family,” he said. “Whether it’s my family, my banking family, or my customers families; when you look back, you ask if you had a positive effect on anybody along the way.”
Feagler, the senior vice president of First State Bank, will be retiring at the end of this month from the bank he helped establish. He said it’s going to be hard to leave it behind, but after spending his life devoted to both his family farm and his customers, it’s time to work on his legacy.
“I think at 65 years of age, you see your parents passing on, and you see your uncles passing on, and you realize that all of those things that you said you would get back to do later in life, it is now,” he said. “I’ve got grandchildren I’ve been able to spend some time with. They are getting older. I’ve got a new grandson who is two years old.
“At some point, you have to pick and choose. At the end of the day, it is family. I think that was a big part of it, to spend more time with the family.”
From the fields…
Feagler’s journey started far away the bank offices he’ll retire from.
He grew up on his family farm in Huntley. He graduated from Torrington High School, then Eastern Wyoming College, then the University of Wyoming with a degree in agricultural economics. All the while, even while he was actively working on his education, his heart and soul were rooted in the Goshen County soil.
“We farmed the whole time,” Feagler said. “I went to Eastern Wyoming college and worked on the farm the whole time, nd I basically came back on the weekends and the summers and farmed. I graduated from the University of Wyoming and had an opportunity for a graduate assistant ship to go on and get my masters, but I could not get farming out of my blood. So, I came back to farming in 1975.”
And that’s what he did for 20 years.
But, in 1995, he got a call from Ted Bentley, then the president of Citizens Bank. Feagler had a real chance to try something besides farming, and would be in a position to help farmers by specializing in agriculture lending. He jumped at it.
“They had a lender retiring,” Feagler said. “He actually came to the farm during the harvest and recruited me to come and work at citizens Bank.
“At that point, I was 40 years old and it was pretty enticing. I went to work for Ted at Citizens with the understanding that I would be allowed to stay involved in farming. He said that was great, so I spend from 1995 on the farming side where I could and being a full-time banker.”
Feagler might have physically moved indoors, but all of the work ethic and grit he developed in the agricultural world transferred into the banking world. Physically, there isn’t much carry-over between the two occupations, but Feagler quickly found his stride.
“I put that agricultural experience with the experience of my customers,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot during the last 25 years.
“I think it’s the fact that when you wake up in the morning, you’re ready to go to work. Really, until the sun goes down, the clock doesn’t shut off for people in agriculture. I was able to carry that into banking. I wasn’t afraid to work late nights in the winter.”
The work ethic put him in a prime position in 1999. Bentley began working with First State Bank to open a bank in Torrington. It would be a whole new operation, built from the ground up – and Feagler jumped on board.
“Basically, we started from zero,” Feagler said. “I tell people we didn’t even own any Staples or paper.
“It was a challenge. It was a situation where we were leaving something that was a known quantity. It had been there forever. We are going to branch out a take on a whole new challenge. But on the other side of that, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have the chance to start something from the ground up.”
First State Bank started in a modular unit where the bank’s sign is today. When the bank opened, though, there was more than a modular and big dreams present.
“We opened up for business,” he said. “Just seeing all of the steady stream of customers that followed us from our previous bank to hear, was just so rewarding. They came here, and we’re putting their lives in our hands. They were taking a bigger leap of faith than we were. That loyalty, and just to see that constant base of people that came in that we built on-I’ll never forget. I will probably never forget the first time that I walked into that modular.
“I will never forget that. That was an amazing time. It was the highlight.”
From there, it grew.
“When we first started, we did everything from opening new accounts to car loans to agloans to commercial loans,” Feagler said. “The last four or five years I have specialized more in ag. That was my major background.”
… And back
And it’s all come full circle.
Feagler will move on from the bank to spend more time with his family – and, just as he has done his whole life, he will be on the farm.
“Our operation is still involved in raising alfalfa, corn, edible beans and wheat,” Feagler said. “My son came back and took over the operations at Torrington Sod Farms. Mark runs the sod farm side of it and I have always maintained managing and operating the farming side.”
He’ll be doing what he loves surrounded by family, but during Feagler’s banking career, he’s forged bonds with both his employees and customers that he’ll miss once he leaves the office for the last time.
“I love this bank and I love the employees,” Feagler said. “Ever since we opened this, we said we wanted to make it the best place to work and the best place to bank. We have never let off the throttle on that. We have gotten good people hired.
“My customers, a lot of them are like family and they are the best friends that I have. I’m going to really miss that day-to-day interaction.”
The secret to building and maintaining those meaningful relationships, both personal and professionally, is that you have to take care of your legacy – your family. According to Feagler, the secret is to be honest and respectful to everyone.
“I think you have to show people that you respect them,” he said. “You have to show them that you’re willing to work side-by-side longer than anybody there. You have to be honest with your customers to develop those relationships and don’t waiver. You just have to take care of people, and let them know that you respect when they have to do things for their family.
“That is how I was raised. Sometimes it hurts to face the truth. Everyone makes mistakes going through their lives, but when you learn to face up to them and accept the consequences, and treat everyone the way you want to be treated, that is the golden rule. It is not easy.”
Over the years, Feagler has used lessons learned in agriculture and in over two decades in the banking industry to put together a bank that values people – customers and employees.
That’s what Feagler will leave behind when he leaves First State Bank for the last time as an employee.
But he’s leaving to do what he does best – grow. He spent years as a farmer, earning his living from the soil. He grew First State Bank from a modular unit and an idea to one of the most trusted institutions in the county, and now he’s going to leave that behind in order to grow even stronger relationships with his family.
Even though he won’t be in the building, Feagler’s philosophy will still be work at First State. People first – that’s his legacy.
“Every customer was the most important customer that I had,” he said. “When they were doing business with me, and I was doing business with them, it was a bond deeper than just the relationship between a banker and day farmer.”