barnett bank
FIRST LOCATION IN DELAND — Barnett Bank’s first location in DeLand was here, at the northeast corner of Woodland Boulevard and New York Avenue. The building is shown in 1925, when it was the location of First National Bank of DeLand. When that bank declared bankruptcy in 1929, Barnett Bank moved in, in October, just as the infamous stock market crash triggered the Great Depression. “Our philosophy was, if Barnett could open a bank in October of 1929 and build it, if we can live through that and make money and help the people, we’re invincible,” longtime Barnett Bank officer Mitch Donaldson recalled.

‘Cash was king,’ retired bankers say

The folks in this room remember banking the way it used to be. Direct deposit, credit cards and computers were years in the future. Banking was about in-person transactions, sturdy adding machines, and stacks of cash.

If you were lucky, regarding the cash, Craig Sweeney of DeLand was the one who taught you how to count it — all the bills facing the same direction, edges neat and the tally always accurate.

DeLandite Lucy Hill remembers being trained as a teller by Sweeney in the mid- 1960s. She was new to banking.

“I’d never even had a checking account in my life,” Hill recalled.

BANKERS UNITE — In pink is Mal Jopling, who left banking to become an Episcopal minister. “I’m paying for all my sins in banking,” Jopling said with a laugh. Once a specialist in car loans, he has since retired from the pulpit, also. Above, right, working at the check-in table are Lucy Hill, left, and Royce Tindall, two members of the committee that organized this year’s party.

She quickly learned it wasn’t a good idea to miss work at the beginning of the month, when retirees would flood the bank to present their paper Social Security checks. Only the most dire of circumstances, like death, were acceptable to Sweeney as an excuse for not showing up.

“His saying was, ‘If you’re not at work on the third of the month, you’d better be at Allen- Summerhill,’” Hill recalled with a laugh.

The occasion of all this bank-related reminiscing was the annual gathering of the Barnett Bank Returned Items, as the group of former bank employees jokingly call themselves.

Most of them worked for Barnett Bank when it was located where the Volusia County administration center is now in Downtown DeLand, before Barnett Bank moved in 1974 to what’s now the Bank of America building at 230 N. Woodland Blvd.

DeLandite Mitch Donaldson recalls that move well. He was the one who talked Bill Barnett into buying the whole block bounded by Woodland Boulevard, Church Street and Florida and Wisconsin avenues.

The investment? “Seventy thousand and change,” Donaldson recalled.

Donaldson then supervised construction of the new facility, perhaps because he had studied electrical engineering before launching a 30-year banking career.

“Somewhere, I missed a turn,” Donaldson joked.

THEY NEVER FORGOT — Dr. William Holler, left, and Mitch Donaldson share memories of banking in the old days, at the Barnett Bank Returned Items reunion in May in DeLand. Holler worked at Barnett Bank for only a brief period, but Donaldson had a 30- year banking career. Donaldson is the reunion group’s unofficial historian — he can rattle off dates, names and events with uncanny accuracy.

Not everyone gathered in the DeLand Elks Lodge party room on this sunny Saturday in May worked for Barnett Bank — or any bank — for their whole careers.

Pat Sowell, for example, worked for the bank for about five years in the late 1960s but then went on to be the town of Pierson’s librarian for 19 years.

Dr. William Holler was a veteran of only about three months of banking in 1968, during the summer between high school and college.

“My father was a car dealer, so I had to work in the shop if I didn’t work in the bank,” Holler said with a laugh.

His brief stint nevertheless produced more than one lasting memory, and a roomful of longtime banking friends.

Holler tells of the time he was staffing the walk-up window Barnett Bank operated at the courthouse, for the convenience of courthouse employees. A man walked up and wanted to open a business account.

Young Holler politely explained that accounts couldn’t be opened at the window; the gentleman would have to go to the regular bank during regular hours. The man told Holler to call his superiors; he was sure they would be glad he had.

They were. The man turned out to be Arthur Jones, who would grow his fitness-equipment business into a multimillion-dollar international empire and change the world of bodybuilding forever. A fine banking customer to have, indeed.

DAYS LONG GONE — This 1959 photo shows DeLand 30 years after Barnett Bank opened there.

Holler and Donaldson both like to collect banking memorabilia, like silver coins and U.S. Treasury bills with “Barnett Bank” printed on them.

Back in those days, Donaldson explained, a bank could pay the U.S. Treasury and, in exchange, receive sheets of bills branded with the bank name. They had to be cut apart with scissors.

Donaldson also remembers the time Sherwood Medical Industries — then one of DeLand’s largest employers — paid all of its workers in silver dollars. The company wanted to demonstrate the economic impact of its paydays on the community. It worked, Donaldson said, as a flood of silver dollars began showing up in restaurants, shops — and at the bank.

Hugs and enthusiastic greetings were frequent at the reunion check-in table, as the 70 or so guests from as far away as Tennessee and Virginia arrived. Many were dressed in Barnett Bank green, and the stories abounded.

They remember Barnett Bank — before the corporate days, anyway, when individual branches made their own policies and decisions based on the needs of the community — as a family-oriented company that worked to make every employee feel valued.

The Christmas parties were an example, they said. The Barnetts themselves always attended, Santa always visited, and every child got a gift.

With a chuckle, Shelby Blevins recalled the year the string holding up Santa’s pants broke, and he had to shuffle out of the room with his red trousers around his ankles. Luckily, she said, his velvet coat was long enough to cover everything.

“They were always so good to the kids,” Blevins said.

The employees repaid the goodwill with dedication. Bonnie Dunmire Slee, who lives in Alabama now in retirement, recalled opening the bank on Saturday mornings — even when Saturday hours weren’t part of the regular schedule — to accommodate DeLand merchants who needed to get cash to run their businesses.

Sandy Rabern recalls the dedication of her husband, David Rabern, who was a “repo man” for the bank, in charge of reclaiming the goods when vehicle or boat loans went south.

One time, she said, he had to swim out off the Florida Keys to take possession of a sailboat. David was unaware at the time, Sandy said, that the sailboat’s owner was watching from atop Seven Mile Bridge.

Even the Raberns’ post-wedding trip accommodated a repossession. David stopped in Waycross, Georgia, to complete paperwork to take back a truck, while Sandy traveled on to Indiana.

“We got two extra days on our honeymoon,” Sandy said.

REUNITED — From left are Don Slee, who worked for the bank for 17 years; Judi Carey, who worked in the Bank of Americard division, once credit cards became a regular part of banking; Linda Breckenridge, a bank bookkeeper for two years in the mid-1960s, fresh out of high school; Martha Holler, whose husband worked for Barnett for a short time in his youth; and Bonnie Dunmire Slee, now a resident of Alabama, who joined the bank just six weeks after graduating from high school.

The reunion attendees recall with collective pride that DeLand was Barnett Bank’s star branch, even though the home office was in Jacksonville. DeLand, for example, was the first to have a drive-up teller, Donaldson recalled.

Many of the attendees lived through the computerization of banking, which should have made the business less paper-dependent, but didn’t at first.

One former banker tells about the reams and reams of paper that spewed out from the early computers’ dot-matrix printers, listing account numbers, balances and all manner of private information.

Eventually, the stacks filled storage rooms and had to be disposed of securely. One experiment involved partnering with a local crematorium, the storyteller sheepishly recalled.

Despite the levity, a somber note hung over this 2022 reunion gathering, which the Returned Items called “The Last Hurrah.”

In December 2021, Esta “Renne” Hagadorn died. She was the powerhouse behind organizing the annual get-togethers. Without her, the event is too much work for the remaining retirees.

This year, Lucy Hill, Shelby Blevins, Louise Suttles, Carol Long, Loren Donaldson and Royce Tindall stepped up to organize the affair, but it will be the last such gathering.

Master of Ceremonies and longtime loan officer Dick Reynolds asked for a show of hands to indicate during which decade the attendees went to work for Barnett Bank — the 1950s? 1960s? 1970s?

By far, the most hands go up for the 1960s. For five decades or more, the Returned Items have been making deposits in the Barnett Bank memory account. Now, they agree, it’s time to withdraw.

GREETINGS — Longtime DeLand banker Dick Reynolds welcomes guests to “The Last Hurrah.”


  1. My father, Eugene Blanton, operated a “Buy Wise” store from that location.
    It was a Beauty Supply shop. I think it was there 2-3 years (1969-1970)
    I have always wanted to move back but never did. 50 years & I am still regretting not moving back. It was the last place that felt like home.

  2. My great aunts, Clara Burnett and Lottie Dorsey worked for many years at the bank in DeLand.


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