Still hometown with $1.7 billion in assets

DeWayne Bartels & Nathan Domenighini

When Morton Community?Bank and?Alpha?Bank merge — to become the largest privately-owned bank in Illinois — it will not be a dry corporate affair.

“Right at the merger we’re going to have a wedding of the employee stock ownership plans at each bank for the employees,” Gordon Honegger, co-CEO, said.

He laughed nervously, like a father of the bride, when asked what that would entail.

“I don’t know,” he said.

What is known is that the merger will create a bank with $1.7 billion in assets.

Honegger said another thing he knows is that the bank’s small-town feel will remain intact no matter the bank’s size.

Honegger has been with MCB for 35 years, long before it had branches throughout Central Illinois, including two in North Peoria.

The No. 1 thing that has changed over the years is that we have gotten more employee ownership. We’re like?Reno, you know, the smallest big city in the?U.S.,”?Honegger said.

That growth has caused the bank to look at de-centralization.

“What we do now is break services down. We print all our checks featuring local town icons. That is all done in?Eureka,”?Honegger said.

“In Peoria, Jeff?Boss handles specialized residential loans for all our branches. And, in?East Peoria, Jim Mamer handles all our specialized commercial loans.”

And, over the past three decades?Honegger said he has seen a large change in the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program) at MCB, watching it grow from 10 percent to the high 30s. Alpha Bank has an ESOP?of 44 percent.

“What hasn’t changed is the basic thing a bank does, which is buy money and sell money,” he said.

Honegger added, “The other thing that hasn’t changed is our attitude. It’s attitude, attitude attitude.”

He said recently the bank was looking to hire two new employees. A number of potential employees came in from big banks. They went through 14 big bank employees before finding the right two.

“We don’t hire people quickly,”?Honegger said.

“The people we do hire must have that ESOP?attitude, and understand they are owners.”

In celebrating the merger, Honegger said they plan an event to show their commitment to their small-town attitude by donating $10,000 to each community served and letting the employees and customers decide which non-profits get the money.

Honegger and his wife, Jean Ann, co-CEO/co-chairman of Morton Community Bank, grew up in Forrest, a town with a population of about 1,000 at the time.

Gordon Honegger’s father, Sam Honegger, was the founder of Honegger Feed Co. in Fairbury.

The two have been involved in agricultural communities for a while now. They said they understand small towns and appreciate living and working in them.

Growth galore

Hometown Community Bancorp — the holding company for all Morton Community Bank locations — has increased its assets by 18 percent since last summer.

Prior to the company’s acquisition of a cluster of Associated Bank branches last summer, Hometown Community Bancorp had $1.4 billion in assets.

After the 2007 acquisition, the company’s assets increased by $100 million. The recent merger with Alpha Bank — which will be completed early fall — adds $175 million more in assets.

Currently, there are Morton Community Bank locations in Morton, Peoria, East Peoria, Elmwood, Princeville, Farmington, Lacon, Pekin, Washington, Manito, Bartonville, Eureka, Sunnyland,?Minier and Roanoke.

The merger will allow Morton Community Bank to serve four more towns — Spring Bay, Toluca, Minonk and Washburn.

There are now 24 Morton Community Bank offices in Central Illinois. In total, the bank now serves six counties — Tazewell, Woodford, Mason, Fulton, Marshall and Peoria.