Making a difference
First Bank Financial Centre gives back

By Sheryl Popp - Special to the News Graphic

Dec. 11, 2018

 Jenny DeCeuster, left, manages First Bank Financial Centre’s Grafton branch;
Kris Barger, right, the Mequon branch.
Photo by Sheryl Popp

OZAUKEE COUNTY — Ozaukee Economic Development’s large business of the year makes a large impact in its communities — Grafton, Mequon and beyond.

First Bank Financial Centre dates all the way back to 1859, when Summit Bank was founded in Oconomowoc, 15 years before Oconomowoc became a city. Since then, 13 branches have been added. Both Ozaukee County locations opened in 2012.

“In five years, our two branches have donated $113,000 and 3,000 volunteer hours to our communities,” said Jenny DeCeuster, branch manager of the Grafton branch.

Kris Barger is branch manager in Mequon. Both said they’re excited to be a part of the programs their bank sponsors.

First Bank Financial Centre chooses locations that are not too far off southeastern Wisconsin’s main traffic corridors, so customers have easyon/ easy-off drives. And each branch is within 15 minutes of a second branch.

“We wanted to have a natural progression of locations for our customers,” Barger said. FBFC was selected for the award for multiple reasons. Its work with Mel’s Charities is extensive. They are financial sponsors for multiple events, such as Mel’s Night at Kapco Park. In a period of three years, FBFC has given more than $33,000 to Mel’s various charity events, plus many volunteer hours. They are a primary sponsor and organizer for the Pumpkin Derby in Grafton and the entertainment sponsor for Family Fun Before the 4th in Thiensville. Each branch’s list of additional assisted organizations numbers over 15 groups. These range from chamber of commerce events to Scouting and other youth organizations, holiday events, service organizations, parks and more.

“The real push for us is truly local customer service,” said DeCeuster.

There are also in-house events that really create one-on-one opportunities to help people and generate more involvement with customers. Little things can make a big difference, and one such service is gift wrapping.

“Really, a lot of people don’t have time to wrap gifts during the holidays,” said Barger. “Or they’re hiding the wrapping from their children. Or they just don’t like doing it. It’s also a very easy way for people to feel they’re contributing to a good cause. They bring in their gifts and they will give us a dollar or more per gift. The money that’s collected goes to a cause chosen by each bank.”

Mequon has chosen the Emma-Rose fund, which is patients helping patients. Emma-Rose Grenon-Lamaitre and her family founded the program when she was diagnosed with leukemia at age 16. The fund helps families with very sick children, and the huge medical costs that the disease group generates.

Grafton has chosen Ozaukee Family Services as its recipient this year.

“We are hoping to provide funds to get people to doctor appointments,” DeCeuster said. “We have no Uber here, we think it would help.”

FBFC has created a lending program called the Loan Pool. The bank loans money to individuals and businesses at the low interest rate of 1 percent.

“For a lot of our clients, this is supplemental funding, DeCeuster said. “They don’t have the money, or can’t justify or qualify for a traditional loan, so they might not do their expansion or project without this funding. We don’t make the decisions. People still have to go through the village or the city.”

FBFC has assisted 14 businesses locally through the loan pool since opening in Ozaukee County, amounting to more than $325,000.

“It’s not about raking in dollars,” Barger said.

Finally, both women rank the Random Acts of Kindness and the Holi-Days of Giving programs as some of the best aspects of their positions. April is Community Banking month, and each branch is able to distribute $500 in any way they can imagine, in whatever amounts they wish. Deserving individuals or families are nominated for the HoliDays of Giving program and if chosen, awarded a $500 gift.

Favorite memories of helping others

First Bank Financial Centre offers its employees several opportunities a year where it can reach out to help individuals in their community. Here is a favorite memory from each local branch manager:

■ Kris Barger, Mequon: Each year, during the month of April, the bank celebrates Community Banking Month. Last year while treating visitors at the North Shore Marcus Cinema to $5 gift cards I received a gift in return. In the theater lobby sat an older gentleman who had served our country in the military. When I presented him with a gift card to see a movie or get a snack he asked what he could give me in return. Of course, I said nothing is necessary, this is my gift to him; an opportunity to brighten his day. He asked if he could sing me a song. There he stood, in the middle of the theater lobby singing out a beautiful song about a soldier and a letter he was waiting for from a girl he had left back home. I won’t ever forget that lovely afternoon and the unexpected gift I received in return.

■ Jenny DeCeuster, Grafton: As part of our HoliDays of Giving program, a noncustomer nominated a local teacher who was continuing to teach at the local middle school during cancer treatments. She found it challenging to prepare meals for her family and we donated $500 in gift certificates for local restaurants to help ease the burden of meal preparation. I was able to present this gift during one of her classes (the nominator’s daughter was in this class). It was such a memorable, heartfelt moment because it showed her that her students and her community cared deeply for her well-being.

— Sheryl Popp


First Bank Financial Centre

11715 N. Port Washington Road Mequon
2300 Washington St. Grafton

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon

Businesses of the Year

Ozaukee Economic Development recognizes three businesses every year as its Businesses of the Year. Over three weeks, the News Graphic is profiling all three. They are:

Small business: Cedarburg Overhead Door

Mid-size business: Sommer’s Automotive Group

Large business: First Bank Financial Centre