Jorj Ann Higgins was hired by the Fairbury Federal Savings and Loan Association on Nov. 1, 1979, to be the manager of its new branch office in Chenoa, and thus began a career in banking that lasted through various changes in names and locations.
    Today, Higgins ended her 45-year banking career as the office manager at the State Bank of Graymont, Chenoa branch.
    “I think I am leaving the bank in a good spot,” Higgins said. “I think the employees on staff here are capable of meeting the challenge associated with me not being here. So, I’m comfortable feeling that I am leaving the bank in a good place to continue and thrive.”
    That first office, the Fairbury Federal Savings and Loan Association, opened at 210 Veto Street in downtown Chenoa in January of 1980. The office relocated to 314 Crittenden St., on Dec. 14, 1984. This was a renovated building that is now the State Bank of Graymont building.
    Since its opening, Higgins has remained the office manager of the location through two ownership changes. The first was the merger of Fairbury Federal with Citizens Saving Bank, effective on May 31, 1995. The second took place when the office was purchased from Citizens by the State Bank of Graymont on Dec. 1, 1997, becoming its first branch.
    Although she spent the majority of her career in Chenoa, Higgins’ first job was at the Bank of Illinois in Normal. After attending Western Illinois University for a couple of years, Higgins decided her heart wasn’t really invested, so she came back to Chenoa, the town where she was raised.
    “I came back to town and started looking for work in Bloomington through a temp agency,” Higgins said. “Of course, they sent me out to a couple interviews and, ironically, my major at Western was fashion merchandising. One of the positions that they sent me to was for a new store at Eastland Mall, which hadn’t opened yet. It was a junior misses retail store and they offered me the job, but they weren’t going to be opening for another three months and I needed something a little sooner.”
    Her second interview was to the Bank of Illinois in Normal for a position in their bookkeeping department.
    “It seemed like a good opportunity and I was told I could start immediately,” Higgins said. “I knew I had always enjoyed math in school, so I decided to take a chance and I’ve been in banking for 45 years.”
    At one time, the building recognized today as the State Bank of Graymont in Chenoa was the home and dental office of Herman “Doc” Von Ruden. The Fairbury Federal Savings and Loan Association purchased the building from the Von Ruden family in 1984. The bank had the original building enlarged slightly to provide an area for a drive-up window and night depository.
    Fairbury Federal moved its Chenoa branch from Veto Street to the Crittenden Street location in December 1984. The office was staffed by Higgins and Marsha (Murphy) Rosenberg.
    “The benefit to having a local person leading your business is the connection to the community,” Higgins said. “You need some kind of connection to get people in the door to become a customer, and although Fairbury Federal was a well-established in Fairbury, the Chenoa branch was their first presence in this community.”
    Fairbury Federal legally merged with Citizens Savings Bank in Normal on May 31, 1995, and the Chenoa office became a branch of Citizens Savings Bank. The Chenoa branch of Citizens Savings Bank closed its doors for the last time on Nov. 29, 1997, and the doors re-opened on Dec. 1, 1997, under a new name, the property and deposits had been sold to the State Bank of Graymont in Graymont.
    The Chenoa office was the first branch for Graymont Bancorp, Inc., parent company of the State Bank of Graymont.
    Throughout her career, Higgins has enjoyed the customer interaction. She particularly enjoyed offering people solutions to their financial problems.
    “I spoke with one customer at the open house on March 23, who stayed with us through the changes of Fairbury Federal to the merger with Citizens to the purchase by State Bank of Graymont,” Higgins said. “I think she was the 23rd bank account that we opened here, but there are a lot of customers that have stuck with us through the years.”
    Reflecting back on the open house, Higgins said she never realized how much a community bank could mean to people.
    “You try to treat people like you’d want to be treated, but that was common sense to me,” Higgins said. “In small community business, you don’t just look at your customers as a customer, you know them as a community member. A lot of our customers don’t just come to us for the transaction, they come for the conversation that goes along with it.”
    Regarding her plans for retirement, Higgins is taking the advice she received from some of the people she spoke to at the open house.
    “They said, ‘don’t commit to anything for a year,’” Higgins said. “I thought that was probably wise advice. My goal is to going to be to get acclimated to the mindset of being retired. Life can be short and at this point in time, I am in good health. So I think this is a good time to enjoy something outside of these walls. I have some family I am looking forward to seeing more often.”