What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hancock Bank Can Teach Bush A Thing or Two

by Ana Maria

Who would have ever thought that a bank would be the anchor business for beachfront revitalization in Bay St. Louis, Miss., one of the tiny beach towns that comprise Katrina’s ground zero? Yet, that is exactly the case with Hancock Bank, Mississippi’s largest and a strong regional bank as well.

As the flagship business for renewing Bay St. Louis’ beach front/downtown/Old Town business district, Hancock Bank’s reopening provides unparalleled leadership locally and even nationally.

How’s this for a demonstration of Katrina responsiveness?

One of the bank’s officers told the celebration’s crowd of a few hundred that in the storm’s immediate aftermath, Hancock Bank took a satchel of money to some central location and began to cash checks. The bank knew that folks needed cash to buy supplies. Thoughtful, indeed. And good business, of course. But, here’s the kicker.

Hancock Bank even took IOU’s from people. That’s right. A bank in the year 2007 took IOUs from people just to get cash in their pockets so that these Katrina survivors could begin to . . . survive.

THAT’s innovation. THAT’s leadership. THAT’s responsiveness. THAT’s creativity. And that is how forward thinking, responsive leaders act, particularly when the worst natural disaster hits an area.

Hancock Bank Could Teach Bush A Thing or Two
Contrast Hancock Bank’s response with the Bush Administration that wants to know why it is that in the immediate aftermath of this same natural disaster that virtually wiped out so many cities in Katrina’s wake that city officials didn’t go through the traditional bidding process and get the least cost for the services needed. For more on that White House foolishness, read Dirt, Dead Bodies, and White House Dirt Bags.

Contrast Mississippi’s largest bank taking IOUs with Bush’s Administration that is holding out millions and millions and millions of federal reimbursement checks perhaps with an eye on outright stiffing Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama cities and towns for the clean up costs for which the federal government is supposed to pay. Compassionate, my you-know-what! [For more on Bush's Administration holding out on reimbursement funds, see When You're Up To You're Ass in Alligators and The "F" Word: FEMA.]

Bush talks compassionate, but doesn’t walk it. Hancock Bank doesn’t say anything and just takes care of the people who have helped it grow over the last century. That’s leadership.

Hancock Bank's Humble Beginnings in the Bay
Hancock Bank was founded in 1899 right here in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and its initial branch was on this very same spot along Beach Boulevard where this grand re-opening was held yesterday evening. As one bank representative said to us at the ceremony, this 100 plus beach front property has been through four major hurricanes and plenty of financial dark times for the banking industry—most notably the Great Depression and the Savings & Loan crisis during the Reagan years.

At the town hall meeting that Congressman Gene Taylor held last week, Board Chair George Schloegel told the standing room only crowd that the bank is not carrying any insurance on the building. It cannot afford the rates. Should the building be destroyed in the future, the cost of rebuilding will be spread over its multi-state branches. However, he continued, families have one home and can’t spread the costs of rebuilding or renovating their homes like Hancock Bank is able to do. Scholoegel supports Congressman Taylor’s Multiple Peril Insurance Act which adds wind coverage to the federal flood insurance program.

“Schloegel brought the house down when he remarked that the insurance companies didn’t have to hire lawyers and haul us to court to get us to pay our premiums. Why should we have to hire lawyers and haul them to court to get them to pay on our wind policy claims?!”
Great people, a great community asset, and a great business citizen in this tiny beach town. Others around the country should take note and follow its example, including the Bush Administration.

At yesterday’s celebration, I was fortunate to run into George Schloegel and told him that I just LOVED his comment on premiums and hiring lawyers. He looked down at me smiling as he told me that he just said it the way he sees it.

Ahhhh, yes. Boy am I ever home where the verbal guessing game is unnecessary. Talking with us doesn’t require reading between the lines. What you see is what you get. Period. That’s unheard of in the political and corporate circles I’ve traveled in around the country.

Celebrating in Typical Bay St. Louis Fashion
We love our music and great food. Yesterday evening’s celebration was typical Bay St. Louis complete with a live Dixieland Jazz band and two huge tables filled with plenty of great food.

The food was stupendous! None of this barely edible appetizers many try to pass off at such occasions. Absolutely, this was a veritable feast of baby tomatoes stuffed with shrimp salad, potato salad, chicken kabobs, a couple of other meats (I don’t know which because I eat seafood only), jambalaya, and a number of delicious deserts.

When I was growing up, Dixieland Jazz was definitely a favorite genre of music in our home. I remember my father telling me that when he was a young man still living with his parents on Magazine Street in New Orleans, he and his brother were forbidden from holding band practice at home. My paternal grandparents came from Italy, and my grandfather taught music—old style and old school. No, I’m not talking Motown old school. I’m talking something quite different.

Today, we learn musical notes by a letter designation. A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Back then—and yeah, it’s not quite a century ago now, my grandfather taught music Do, Re, Mi, Fa . . . which some of us learned from the Sound of Music. Trust me, it was NOT that kind of teaching. My point is that life was, well, different way back, but the attitude of the older folks toward the younger one's musical tastes remain rather similar.

My grandfather apparently wasn’t too keen on the new ways and would not permit jazz to be played in the house. “Not real music” my father would tell me his dad would say. Eventually, my grandfather allowed his sons to bring their jazz band to practice in the house on one condition. They had to tell their father when the band would be practicing so he could leave. My dad told me that his father thought jazz wasn’t “real music” and that is would be a death knell for the orchestra.

A few years back, I myself knew that I had reached the generational divide when certain songs were played and I thought, “That’s not music!!” I don’t think my grandfather was whispering to me from the grave, either.

Every generation has their musical tastes, I suppose. (But really, how can it be “music” without a good beat to dance to?! Just kidding.) Some things never change from generation to generation.

Nevertheless, for this child of a former jazz musician, listening to the Dixieland tunes being played reminded me of dancing with my father who has long since passed away. As a little girl, he would put me on his shoes and we’d dance. I love those memories.

That’s part of the magic of Hancock Bank’s reopening in the same spot it has always operated for 100 years. Coming home to memories. Clearly the bank’s decision to rebuild in the same spot has more to do with tradition, history, and a sense of community than some actuarial bean counting analysis. That’s what creates strong families, neighborhoods, communities, towns, and cities. It’s about strong memories, a sense of history, a sense of belonging.

Last night, we all belonged at that wonderful celebration. We felt a sense of community, a hopefulness, a renewed desire to rebuild our town.

With all of the celebration and laughter underneath the stars and moonlight, who would have thought that anyone there had a care in the world.

But, oh, we all have many, many cares. Katrina took away nearly everyone’s homes either completely or devastated the homes so much that it took ages to clean it up to make do while living in it as the rest was being worked on.

Katrina took away so very much, which many fear may never return in their lifetimes. Last night I was talking with a couple that I hadn’t seen in over 25 years. Now in their 60’s and 70’s, how can they start over particularly when the insurance company low balls or outright denies payment on legitimate wind claims on a policy they’ve paid premiums for years?

Our sorrows are deep, healing is slow, and payments from insurance companies slower exacerbating our sorrows and our healing.

So how can we enjoy ourselves at all? We know that life isn’t about sorrow only or happy times only. It is about how they intermingle, intertwine within our lives. Here in Bay St. Louis, Miss., we tend soothe our sorrows and celebrate our joys with great tasting food, good music in the background, and great company. That’s one of our secrets to our sanity, our generosity, our vibrant culture. That’s how we are able to survive Katrina and the betrayal from Big Insurance and Bush’s Administration.

With business sensitivity and innovation like that which Hancock Bank has shown and the internal fortitude of our residents, that's how the Bay will return to its vibrancy complete with all the festive trimmings to celebrate every milestone along the way.

Return to A.M. in the Morning! Home


Anonymous said...

sounds like a great fest, and a great time! your description sure makes me wish i was home...

Ana Maria said...

It was a great time! I got there about 30 minutes before the ceremony started. I thought it started at 5, but it was to start at 5:30. I stayed until the staff started cleaning up. I had a blast and so it seems that every one else did.

Laughter and smiles, chatter and happiness abounded.

I wish you had been here, too, Janet! Well, maybe next time. ;)