Of the Baker City Herald

Any bank that offers its depositors gold on demand would probably feel at home in the historic Baker Tower.

Thats exactly where Community Bank, set to open its doors Monday morning, has elected to set up shop.

Joseph-based Community Bank, with $170 million in assets, is opening its 10th branch and first in Baker County in the Towers ornate fireplace room.

Were very excited to be bringing our services to Baker County, said Lynne Ewing, the new branchs loan officer. Together with new accounts representative Glenabell Lewis and teller Jackie Holden, the local team brings more than 40 years of banking experience to their new positions.

Ewing said the new bank plans to spend up to a year in its temporary quarters in the Tower. The bank is still scouting Baker City for a permanent home, one that will include a drive-up window and automated teller machine. Bank president and chief executive officer Bruce Penoske told shareholders the new location will be on Campbell Street and will be ready in late 2001 or early 2002. The bank financed construction of the Bi-Mart development there.

Until then, the new branch will provide what it touts as personalized service and the highest possible rates of return on savings accounts and certificates of deposit.

Commercial, consumer and mortgage loan services will also be offered.

The bank will be open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. The telephone number is 524-7667.

According to its annual report, the bank prides itself on being the only state or national bank in its competitive realm that has not been sold to or merged with an out-of-state company.

If you look at the number of bank branches in our communities, Northeast Oregon is definitely over-banked, the bank wrote to its shareholders. This begs the question: then why are more bank branches needed? The reason why Community Bank has rapidly expanded its branch network is to bring a higher level of banking to the individuals who call Northeast Oregon home. While there are an adequate number of banks serving our communities, there is a shortage of banks providing great customer service, a quality work environment for their employees, and competitive financial products at a reasonable price.

Community Bank has three branches each in Union, Wallowa and Umatilla counties. Penoske said deposits grew by more than 32 percent last year, and that every branch showed substantial growth over the previous year.

The temporary Baker City branch wont keep gold on hand like the other branches do. Penoske said depositors who wish to can withdraw their assets the way the pioneers used to in gold rather than greenbacks. But the lack of a vault in the Baker Tower office precludes that old-time practice here, Ewing said.

According to Penoske, another quality that sets his bank apart is that 93 percent of it is owned by its officers and other employees.

Thats important, as more and more banks are facing an uncertain future as they go public, he said.