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Originally published: 2014-06-27 11:30:53
Last modified: 2014-06-27 11:31:36

LifeStore celebrates 75th anniversary

LifeStore Banking celebrated its 75th anniversary on Friday, June 20, in true High Country fashion: with good food, bluegrass music and keynote speakers from the bank's past.

LifeStore has been through several changes during its 75 years. The bank actually started as a loan company called the Ashe Building & Loan Association.

It all started nearly eight decades ago with the establishment of West Jefferson. One of the few people who witnessed the birth and growth of the town was Glenn Burkett Graybeal. 

In 1938, Graybeal and a banker from West Jefferson named J. Lester Seagraves saw the need for a building and loan association in West Jefferson. The association would assist people if they wanted to purchase or build a new home.

After consulting with other loan associations, and after a couple of meetings, Ashe Building & Loan Association was officially chartered by the state of North Carolina on Jan. 16, 1939.

"1939 seems like an unusual year to start Ashe Building and Loan association," said Bob Washburn, the president and CEO of LifeStore Bank. "The nation was working its way out of a decade-long Depression that saw several banks fail here in Ashe County."

Jim Gambill, a retired businessman who acted as the keynote speaker during the 75th anniversary celebration, agreed with Washburn. 

According to Gambill, the world was looking grim in 1939. The United States had not fully recovered from the Great Depression, and the table for World War II was being set.

During his speech, Gambill said there were 15,000 banks in the United States before the Great Depression, and by 1939, 11,000 of them had disappeared. 

"That's when these people with a vision got together ... and they decided to take a chance," Gambill said. "When everybody failed, they decided to start a loan company."

"This institution has made a huge impact in people's lives in this community," Gambill said.

One notable person affected by LifeStore, then Ashe Savings and Loan, is West Jefferson Mayor Dale Baldwin.

Baldwin said he and his wife built their first house by taking out a loan through Ashe Building and Loan. Once they had two children, Baldwin and wife, Ellen decided to move into a lager home.

"I must admit, building the second home with Ashe Savings and Loan, I needed a few kind words from Mr. Glenn Graybeal to get the loan through," Baldwin said.

"Mr. Glenn Graybeal would do his best; he worked with anyone and everyone to give everyone an affordable home," Baldwin said. "Through the years, I think this bank has held to the high principles set by Mr. Glenn and Mr. Bill Ashley, being there for the people when they need it."

According to Baldwin, LifeStore Banking Insurance has become a staple of the community.

"They had one thing in mind: To make home ownership as affordable as possible for everyone," Baldwin said. "If not for them, a lot of homes would never have been built in Ashe County."

Baldwin said many fine men and women had worked for LifeStore during the years, and he said he hopes the bank's success continues in the future.

"We look forward to the next 75 (years) and beyond, and it's our sincere wish that we will see a bright and shining future for both our town and the bank," Baldwin said. 

History

Ashe Building & Loan Association was originally housed in the left portion of the Parker Tie Co. building.Like much of the country, the 1940s were a time of prosperity for Ashe Building & Loan Association. According to information provided by LifeStore Bank, financial statements from 1939 indicated the loan company had $1,462 in assets. By December 1949, Ashe Building & Loan Association had $100,964 in assets.

After this period of rapid growth, the company's shareholders decided to change the name of Ashe Building & Loan Association at the group's annual meeting in 1951. The name was changed to Ashe Saving's and Loan Association. 

By 1962, the board agreed to hire a third full-time employee, due to the growth of Ashe Saving's and Loan.

Eventually, Ashe Saving's and Loan purchased a new building, a house on South Jefferson Avenue, in September 1963.

The excitement for the move to Jefferson Avenue was quickly squelched with the news that Graybeal had suffered a heart attack on July 6, 1964.

The board found Graybeal's replacement in William "Bill" Ashley, a native from the Warrensville community who attended Asheville-Biltmore College (now UNC Asheville).

Ashley stepped in as Ashe Saving's and Loan's new managing officer in 1964, and would hold his position for 30 years.

Ashe Saving's and Loan Association continued to grow and prosper into the 1980s. In 1975, Ashe Saving's and Loan introduced certificates of deposit and individual retirement accounts. In 1978, the loan company began offering 30-year mortgages. 

In 1982, Ashe Saving's and Loan obtained a federal charter and became Ashe Federal Savings and Loan.

As Ashe Federal Savings and Loan continued to grow, the loan company began offering checking accounts.

After Ashley's retirement in 1994, the board hired James A. Todd, a former federal bank examiner, as the company's new president and chief executive officer.

By 1995, Ashe Federal Savings and Loan became a federally chartered bank, then called Ashe Federal Bank. 

The bank also opened its third branch in Warrensville.

During the 10 years after Ashley's retirement, the company experienced more growth and expansion than it had in the prior 55 years.

In September 2009, the company's name changed once again to LifeStore Banking Insurance.According to Washburn, LifeStore has a mutual form of ownership, and 52 percent of LifeStore Bank is owned by its depositors.

"This gives us a tremendous advantage in terms of independence and taking a long-term view of what is best for the customers and our community," Washburn said.