by Dennis Dalman
Since 1939, Liberty Savings Bank in downtown St. Cloud has been serving loyal customers, and now – with its five locations – it has been honored by the Sartell Area Chamber of Commerce as Sartell Business of the Year.
The surprise award was presented during the Chamber’s annual banquet April 10 at Blackberry Ridge Golf Course. Jan Sorell won the Senior Volunteer of the Year Award. (See related story.)
“We were surprised and honored,” said Liberty Savings Bank Senior Vice President Robin Gohman, who accepted the award along with the bank’s president and CEO Mark Bragelman and other Liberty staff members.
The plaque they received now has a place of honor on a wall inside the Liberty Savings Bank’s Sartell location on Pinecone Road S.
In an interview with the Sartell Newsleader, Gohman outlined the long family history of Liberty Savings Bank. It was founded in 1939 by the E.M. “Mike” Helgeson family, who also owned the Jack Frost Hatchery building in which the bank began. It’s the same location as where the St. Cloud Liberty Savings Bank is now located – at 111 7th Ave. S. in downtown St. Cloud. The bank, which has more than 30,000 customers (the total of its five branches) is now owned by Liberty Financial Services. About 55 people are employed at the bank’s five locations.
One reason Liberty Savings Bank was honored with the Business of the Year Award is because of the company’s many good deeds and volunteerism in area cities, including Sartell. For example, last year the bank sponsored Sartell Libertyville, a family-oriented event at Pinecone Regional Park in Sartell. The free gathering took the place of the annual SummerFest carnival at Sartell Middle School, which had been discontinued. Liberty Savings Bank stepped forward to fill that gap with music, games and food during Libertyville. This summer, it will take place again, with inflatables for kids, face-painting, airbrush tattoos, food, refreshments and country-rock music by the legendary Charlie Daniels and his band. The event will take place from 5-9 p.m. Friday, June 13.
Libertyville is an offshoot of what began 24 years ago in downtown St. Cloud. At that time, Liberty Savings Bank began an annual “Block Party” next to its St. Cloud branch. Every summer, there were big-league singers and bands performing that included the likes of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tanya Tucker, Bobby Vee and the Vees, John Anderson, Juice Newtown and the Rockin’ Hollywoods. The event quickly became an annual “family gathering spot,” Bragelman noted, and he and Liberty employees had a blast mixing with the same people year after year, many of them loyal Liberty customers.
That kind of civic involvement is central to Liberty Savings Bank’s mission, said its president, Mark Bragelman. All employees are encouraged to participate as volunteers on local committees, boards, charitable organizations and other pursuits that enhance the quality of life in the central Minnesota area.
“We live here,” Bragelman said. “Everything we do affects people around us.”
Generations of local ownership, Bragelman said, have made the bank accessible to local people and local needs. That, he said, is why he maintains his office right next to the front door of the St. Cloud bank.
“We’re accessible any time,” he said. “We’re retail. Our consumers are everyday people.”
Liberty Savings Bank offers a wide range of services, including checking, savings, home loans, home equity, CDs, insurance, credit cards and online banking.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.