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First National Bank Bemidji celebrates 125 years

The bank’s history began on Nov. 17, 1897, when Bank of Bemidji opened in a small white building on the south side of Third Street.

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First National Bank Bemidji is located at 1600 Paul Bunyan Drive NW.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pione
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BEMIDJI — First National Bank Bemidji is celebrating 125 years in business this week.

The bank’s history began on Nov. 17, 1897, when Bank of Bemidji opened in a small white building on the south side of Third Street under the ownership of R.E. Davis and William H. Taber.

That longevity is not taken lightly by First National’s current president, Hugh Welle.

“It’s not an easy thing to perpetuate, I’ve found out over the years,” said Welle, whose family has been involved in the bank since 1945. “But thankfully Bemidji is the strongest place in the world to be, I think. That really supports the foundation of our prosperity.”

On opening day 125 years ago, there were five depositors opening checking accounts in the bank totaling $910 as well as 18 loans totaling $1,088.83. Today, First National Bank Bemidji has grown to over $970 million in assets.

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In 1931, the Bank of Bemidji was purchased by Andrew and Charles Warfield and renamed First National Bank Bemidji. Then, in 1945, Nick and Rudy Welle, along with Elgin Phillips and Les Hoganson, acquired the bank.

In 1985, employees invested in the bank through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan continuing the bank’s goal of being Bemidji’s banking partner for generations to come.

“We have had great, great staff people,” Welle said. “There is an unusual commitment to the community. Some people believe bankers do that to get more business, but our staff, owners and management do it because we live here and we want it to be better. So there’s a little different motivation than just another checking account.”

He credited his father Joe and uncle Bob with passing ownership on to bank employees.

“My dad and his brother were very committed to the staff,” he said. “They didn’t want to just see the bank sold to somebody, so they set aside their own personal interest to accomplish that. That’s a heavy lift in and of itself. But it’s really served us well, and every time I have a 40-year person retire, which is more often than you think, and their financial reward is significant, that’s all the gratification I need in life.”

While Thursday, Nov. 17, marks the official anniversary of the bank, the celebration is going on all week long.

The public is invited to visit any of the First National Bank Bemidji locations for treats. The bank also will be providing $125 pay-it-forward gifts to each department to spend in the community over the next several weeks.

Related Topics: BEMIDJI
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