Mourning loss of community

Published 12:11 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hyde County is mourning the passing of an old friend.

At 93 years of age, one might expect the loss, but this was no ordinary friend, and, until recently, we just took for granted that this nonagenarian would be around for another 90 years — or more. After all, in the 20th century, they had survived the darkest days of the Great Depression when others were falling all across the country.

Yes, The East Carolina Bank is dead. ECB merged with Crescent Financial Bancshares Inc. and will soon become known as VantageSouth Bank.  Whereas the headquarters for ECB has been in the small village of Engelhard, it will now switch to Cary.

Actually, in the past three years or so, ECB customers had already begun to notice the little changes — the loss of the personal touch and the caring about their community that ECB was renowned for. ECB was slipping away.

It first became obvious at the end of 2009. For many years, ECB had always given out calendars for the upcoming new year, along with holiday wishes for their customers. That year, new management decided to forgo this tradition, although it must be noted that after a public outcry, it succumbed and ordered calendars at the last minute.

Then other little things became evident. Local branches were no longer allowed to post fliers in the drive-through windows advertising local nonprofit events and lobby bulletin boards were removed. Whereas in the past, ECB had previously helped chambers of commerce and other organizations by displaying their fundraising items, that was banned. When asked to support local causes in the communities they served as they had for 90 years, the bank indicated that its policy had changed and it “now only supported national causes.”

Bank lobbies were wiped clean of local paraphernalia and became void of the sense of the communities they served. When a customer called his or her local bank, he or she were surprised to find someone they didn’t know, miles away, answering the telephone. It became impossible to speak to someone in the local branch — no matter that you had dealt with them for many years and had a trusted relationship with them — you now talked to that stranger or were forced to visit the local office in person. And once you were in your local branch, employees seemed unable to answer questions or make decisions without a phone call to “let me ask someone else.” Services that were included when you originally opened your account(s) were phased out — or you were now charged additional fees for them.

The overturn in personnel has been astonishing. Even before the imminent merger, employees who had been loyal for many years left and strangers who didn’t really seem to have the individual customer’s needs at heart were in their place. Unrest and uncertainly among remaining employees was evident, but they never voiced their unhappiness for fear of losing their jobs. Many of those remaining employees are either already without a job, or will soon be without one.

So we mourn the passing of an institution. We thank ECB’s employees for their loyal service and wish them well. Originally opened as the Engelhard Banking and Trust Company with $10,000, The East Carolina Bank kept the hopes and dreams of those hardy souls alive throughout the years — in good times and in hard times. This is the bank that, because of its rural location, didn’t receive the word to close during the Great Depression. It grew and prospered, and, just maybe, it outgrew its humble roots. Or, as my mother would have said, “They’ve outgrown their britches.” We’ll miss you!


Margie Brooks is chairwoman of the Hyde County Community Development Corp.