It took a measure of gumption to open a financial institution during the depths of the Great Depression. But in 1935, that’s precisely what a group of local businessmen sought to do when the seeds of Dubuque Bank and Trust were planted.
John H. and George F. Jansen, Russell Stotesbery, Albert Wharton and James Burch Jr. became the “founding fathers” of the institution. By 1981, the bank had formed Heartland Bancorp as its corporate parent, changing its name to Heartland Financial USA 10 years later.
Through mergers, acquisitions, the best of economic times and the most turbulent, the institution remained intact.
Today, Heartland has grown to include 11 independent charters in a dozen states, as well as 125 banking centers in 93 communities.
It’s a homegrown success story and one close to the heart of Lynn B. “Butch” Fuller, chairman of the board and executive operating chairman of Heartland, as well as director and vice chairman of the board of Dubuque Bank and Trust. He also is a third-generation leader of the establishment that he joined in 1971.
Under his guidance, the organization recently published, “A History of Heartland Financial USA, Inc.: Honoring the Past — Prepared for the Future.”
Authored by Lois K. Pearce, a senior vice president and administration coordinator who joined the company in 1988, the 250-page, full-color, hardcover book details the history of Heartland, Dubuque Bank and Trust and the employees and families throughout the community who helped shape the joint venture.
Having put off retirement when tapped for the project, Pearce described it as “the story she loves to tell.”
“It’s was really the dream of Butch to compile and record the history of the company for posterity,” she said. “But it’s also a story about family and about a great success for the community.”
The project initially was in the hands of Mabel Strub Hartmann, who had been with Heartland for 61 years, and Fuller’s father, Lynn S. “Bill.” However, the mighty task of gathering records, compiling the company’s history and putting it on paper never came to fruition.
“With my grandfather’s passing and later my father’s passing in 2009, my fear was that no one would know our story,” Fuller said. “Who would know the energy that was put into this company? It was important to me to have a record of that for the generations to come.”
In addition to interviewing current and past affiliates of the company and visiting with Mike Gibson, of the Center for Dubuque Area History, Pearce poured through boxes in storage, old meeting minutes, Telegraph Herald newspaper clippings and other documents.
“It took me about three years,” Peace said, laughing. “Once we had everything gathered, the decision came down to what we wanted to do with it. Butch said, ‘Let’s turn it into a book.’ And it was going to be a hardcover coffee table book. There was just too much history to include. We wanted to do it justice.”
Pearce admitted she knew nothing about how to go about publishing such an effort. She enlisted the help of local author and editor Chris Feldman, who helped Pearce whittle down the information to capture a cohesive story of the organization.
“When I first spoke to Chris Feldman, he said, ‘Lois, I don’t know anything about banking,’” Pearce said. “My response was, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about publishing a book. We can help each other.’ He became my right arm.”
The book was a local affair with McCullough Creative handling the design, Union-Hoermann Press printing the book and a plethora of local historical resources chipping in.
It was made available in hard copy and digital formats free to Heartland and Dubuque Bank and Trust employees. However, it’s something Fuller is extending to the community as well. A limited number of copies are available for those interested.
“We’re very proud of it, and it has been very meaningful for us,” Fuller said. “It captures our history, but it’s an important history for the community as well. Hopefully, other local family companies in Dubuque will do something similar for future generations so that their history won’t be lost.”
But more than just a history book, the effort serves as a reflection of the ever changing times and a tribute to the perseverance of its employees, past and present, who have helped see Heartland and Dubuque Bank and Trust through.
“Going through the book, it just brings back so many memories,” Pearce said. “I feel honored that I was asked to do this. It was like going on a walk down memory lane. The hard work is done. Now, the fun begins. May I retire now, please?”