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Thank you, Pine River Valley Bank, for 28 years

What makes a small place a real town, anyway?

An old newspaper adage is that a town needs a school, a post office, a bar, a church, (to balance each other out, I suppose!) and a newspaper.

I think a local bank belongs on that list, as well.

For many years, Bayfield had not had a bank. Folks had to travel to Ignacio or Durango to do their banking, and remember, this was back in the days before ATMs and the Internet. Having to travel 15 or 20 miles just to cash or deposit a check was a burden. And sometimes small businesspeople need to get that deposit made just to keep their business afloat and cover payroll or that check to a vendor.

So in the mid-1970s, two members of the Sower family, father Cecil and son Jim; Glade Stowell, who owned the old Shur-Valu in Bayfield on Mill Street; Jack LePlatt, who owned the propane company; and Joe Ford, a real estate agent, and 15 other stockholders decided to start a local bank. It opened on Aug. 1, 1977.

Jim Sower was the bank's president from 1977 to 2002 and is now chairman of the bank's board, and he told me some of the bank's history. When they were trying to start the bank, Mr. Stowell was driving to and from Ignacio with his store deposit and the funds for the Bayfield Lions Club, as well as his church, and maybe some deposits from a few other businesses as well.

The bank was started with $365,000, Jim said. We both chuckled at that.

"Can you imagine that?" Jim asked. He said today it takes at least $5 million to start a bank.

In 1995, the bank moved from what is now the Bayfield Liquor building to its larger location on Mountain View Drive.

I wasn't here back then, but I do remember the bank's 25th anniversary celebration in their parking lot in 2002. My husband and I had purchased the Times that summer with some support, advice and a building loan from the bank. The Missionary Ridge fire was finally winding down, and the monsoon rains had arrived. That afternoon, those monsoons dumped water. It dampened the party a bit. But no one complained, because we were in the middle of a such a tough drought and the fire was still burning. So we moved under shelter and enjoyed the event anyway.

In 2003, PRVB opened a temporary location in Durango, then moved to its permanent building, which really is a lovely facility, on Main Avenue in 2005. In 2004, Pine River Valley Bank purchased the two banks in Creede and Lake City, changing their names to the Miners and Merchants Bank.

Durango has banks, of course, but without Pine River, three small towns in Colorado might not have had a bank or could have lost their bank. That can be devastating in a small town.

But in the past 28 years, banking has become pretty complicated. Reporting every piece of information the feds require isn't easy, from what I've been told by my banker friends.

Handling all of the data processing needed to keep a bank operating today is no easy job either, Jim said.

I know on one hand, our local bankers and customers, including me, are relieved there will still be a local bank. On the other hand, it's hard to hand over the reins to a new outfit, even if you know that's probably the best option to stay in business.

I wish National Bank Holdings and Community Banks of Colorado the best of luck as they come to Bayfield, and I hope they will continue to support the community in the way Pine River Valley Bank has. And to the Sowers, Stowells, LePlatts and Fords and all of those employees who worked at Pine River Valley Bank for many years, thank you very much for being our local bank.