VINITA — First National Bank of Vinita - with branches in Grove and Cleora -  began celebrating its 125th anniversary on Wednesday, March 15, by going back to its roots with a familiar symbol to reach the world in the next century.

From the bank's beginnings on the ground floor of the Cobb Hotel in 1892 to three Grand Lake locations — in Vinita, Grove, and Cleora — the focus of its staff has always been a commitment to customers.

First National Bank opened its doors on March 15, 1892, when Sam Leforce, a prominent cattleman, saddled up his cow pony, rode into Vinita and entered the Cobb Hotel. There in the corner of the hotel was a group of men.

Legend has it Leforce asked the men if they were starting a bank, according to a 1937 bank document, and became the first customer.

President Benjamin Harrison granted the bank’s charter, making it the third bank in Indian Territory. Six months later the bank had deposits totaling $53,438.72 and $47,826.40 in loans. Within two years, bank deposits were more than $300,000, according to the 1937 bank document.

That’s more than $8 million dollars by today’s standard.

Today, First National Bank is a $394 million community bank and has customers around the world.

“With mobile and internet banking, we are a borderless bank,” said Mark Londagin, executive vice president. "We like to think that we are a local bank with global outreach - but we never forget where our roots are."

The bank has customers in northeast Oklahoma, throughout the United States and in some foreign countries, Londagin said, adding that while the bank has a rich history, it continues to move toward the future, being a leader in technology. 

“Our owners are willing to invest in us,” Londagin said.

There is lot of pride and passion for community banking, and the bank has a passion to take care of its customers and the communities it serves, he said.

First National Bank is one of the oldest banks in Oklahoma. First National Bank in Ardmore asserts it was the first — established in 1889, while the Oklahoma Historical Society says the oldest bank is Stillwater State Bank (now BancFirst), which was established in 1894.

To celebrate 125 years, several activities took place on Wednesday at each branch - with a railroad conductor appearing in Vinita.  

Grove's celebration included cake, cupcakes and live musical entertainment. Other birthday celebration events are slated to take place in the coming months. 

The conductor is a human representation of the bank’s brand ideals and captures the historical and symbolic significance of the railroad, said Julie Dean, senior vice president of operations and marketing.

The city of Vinita was founded on railroad tracks, specifically the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, which came to be known as “the Katy.”

The history of railroads and First National Bank are one and the same, Dean said.

Multiple generations of farming and ranching families have trusted the First National Bank when pastures were overflowing with calves in the springtime and a lending hand when the sun-scorched land yielded very little crops, bank officials said.

“The bank has been there to help in times of need and to celebrate when times are good,” said Dee Robison, First National Bank CEO.