Legends to celebrate 110 years

By H.B. Dodds, Staff Writer
Posted 3/15/23

LINN —  Legends Bank is celebrating another landmark on Friday, March 17, the 110th anniversary of its existence. A week-long open house is taking place at each location Legends has hung …

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Legends to celebrate 110 years


LINN —  Legends Bank is celebrating another landmark on Friday, March 17, the 110th anniversary of its existence. A week-long open house is taking place at each location Legends has hung out a shingle. Bank lobbies are decorated, and on Friday, March 17, 110th Anniversary T-shirts will be given away while supplies last. There will also be a $110 cash prize awarded at each location that day. Refreshments will be served all week. The accomplishment prompting this celebration is no small one.

The Bank of Rich Fountain opened its doors for business on that date in 1913. It was, and still is, an independent, family-controlled institution. It’s governed by conservative, forward-thinking values. Three generations of the Klebba family have learned from the previous and passed on to the next. The legacy is a successful business model that allows for change. Those changes, though, are made only according to unchangeable principles. It is the last of the original 13 banks remaining in Osage County. The other 12 have failed, sold, or moved their headquarters elsewhere. “While others have divested, we continue to invest in Osage County,” said Legends Bank president Tom Klebba.

The first century saw the institution survive the Great Depression. Only three other financial institutions in Osage County were able to do that. The bank moved to Linn at the behest of the Missouri State Banking Commissioner in 1936, ensuring the county seat had a functioning financial institution. That necessitated a name change for the business but also established a tradition. Any changes meet new needs without varying from a solid, community-based strategy. It was known as Linn State Bank for the next seven decades.

Later, regulations in the state began to allow for banking branch operations. The company began to utilize that opportunity. Starting in Westphalia in 1973, new branches have been added. The emphasis has been on slow, steady, and always community-emphatic growth. That continues to this date. Now 10 branches strong, spread over six counties, there is no desire to stop. Plans exist for a second branch to open in Rolla, making 11 total.

“We’re always looking to grow,” said Chairman and CEO John A. Klebba, “but we’ve passed on many more opportunities than we’ve pursued because they just didn’t fit our strategic vision.”

There are uncompromisable principles to which the company adheres. They may be few and simple, but they’re time-tested and have served the bank and local communities well.

After the turn of the 21st Century, it became apparent the Linn State Bank name needed changing. It was confusing to customers and marketing efforts in many of the branches. There was a contest among account holders, who submitted more than 1,000 suggestions. The Klebba family and other company officials narrowed the list to five. They then did some careful market research. The name “Legends Bank” emerged and has served well for almost two decades since; nor, given the circumstances, is two name changes very many.

What matters to the convictions of the officers and customers is how the faces stay the same. It’s a matter of conscience that decisions come from people who know those affected by them.

“Most of the people we hire, especially on the loan side, were born and raised in the communities in which they are working,” said John A. Klebba. “They are committed to those communities and committed to staying, so we have dedicated, long-tenured staff at our branches.”

So the name doesn’t change often. Neither do the faces. Where does this resistance to unnecessary, unprofitable change originate?

There may be a clue in the names of those who have been in charge through the years. John B. Klebba was a founder. His son, John H. Klebba, was Chairman and CEO when John A. Klebba came to work in 1991. “You will find that we have very little imagination in naming our firstborn male children because there are, I think, eight Johns now,” said John A. Klebba.

Other Klebbas may apply, though. John A.’s brother, Tom, is now President and CEO. His son, Joseph, is Vice President of the branch in Jefferson City.

“Serving our communities through banking has defined the generations before us for 110 years,” said Joseph Klebba, “and I couldn’t be more honored to continue carrying on this tradition into the next generation.”

That generation is the fourth.

Then there’s another son, an Assistant Vice President in Linn, John W. Klebba.

So family and community count for a lot. However, principles rise above all. Unprincipled families and communities accomplish little simply for being what they are; it’s how they are which has staying power.

“We are a conservatively managed, highly capitalized bank,” asserts John A. Klebba. “Had that not been the case with the first generation of management of the bank, the bank likely would never have survived the Great Depression. Our strategic vision is that we are going to be a locally-owned community bank that is heavily involved in the communities we serve.”

There is no way to overstate how much the family leans on that cornerstone. “We’re here. We’ve been here. We’re going to stay here,” John A. Klebba said emphatically. “Healthy communities make healthy banks, and healthy banks make healthy communities. There is a real connection there, and most importantly, it is the right thing to do.”

Regarding new banking products, Legends has never desired to be on the “bleeding edge.” The early editions of new products are required to be well-tested before Legends adopts them. Many banks had drive-thru facilities in the 1960s, ATMs in the 1980s, and at least some online capability in the 1990s. Legends never had any of them in the pioneer days, but they got all of them in due time. The bugs were worked out first, though. The method of operating them to the benefit of customers and the company alike was well-defined. “We’re not early adopters because we don’t think we should be putting our customers’ funds or personal data at risk with unproven technology,” said John A. Klebba with a grin, reflecting on the reputation. “But we have been very successful in offering the same technology and services as our much larger competitors while preserving a personal banking option that the big banks have mostly abandoned.” 

Make no mistake, though; they’re sharp.

What new banking and financial products are out there now? Legends Bank is, so far, staying away from cryptocurrency. “Right now, that market is so incredibly infant,” said John A. Klebba.

“And volatile,” added Tom Klebba.

“Right now, it’s not a currency,” John A. Klebba explained. “It’s a speculative investment. If you feel comfortable taking your money up to the boat in Boonville, get into crypto.”

In terms of loaning money, recent years have seen banks offering reverse mortgages. “When reverse mortgages came out, we felt we needed to know what they were and how they worked,” John A. Klebba observed.

So far, though, they have seen no real market or reputable way to serve it in this area. They’ve also watched the banks that have aggressively pursued it run into a lot of trouble. That’s never been, nor ever will be, anything Legends Bank will crave.

Tom Klebba gives as much credit to Osage County for making the bank successful as he gives the family. Banks serve communities, and healthy communities need and nurture good banks, but that’s not where communities start. Every time Legends adds a branch, they do it in a locality with good fundamentals in place. That town is set to thrive in the long run.

“We have a sustainable county here,” said Tom Klebba.

He pointed out agricultural roots, combined with the reasonable commute to Jefferson City. There’s some light manufacturing and State Technical College of Missouri. “We’ve got a lot of good employment here.”

This contrasts with many small towns, especially in northern Missouri counties, some of which face bleak futures.

“Our tax base is growing,” agreed John A. Klebba, who, with Tom Klebba and their siblings, own voting control of the company’s shares.

“We have no intention of transferring control of the company to some remote group or company. We think the best way to serve our customers is to continue to keep management and decision-making local”, says Tom Klebba. 

It’s been that way from the beginning. Even John B. Klebba’s co-founder in 1913 was a brother-in-law. They are, however, willing to add branches when the right opportunity arises. There are still far more opportunities available than there are the right ones. “There are smaller banks out there looking to sell,” John A. Klebba asserted “We’re buyers, but it has to make sense.”

Growth is impossible without some change. Legends Bank has excelled at analyzing and managing them. They’re handled to the benefit of the company, the family, and the communities they serve. A timeline of photographs of the southeast corner of Main and 2nd Street in Linn shows visible changes. The address, 200 E. Main, though, and the success headquartered there, has been constant. The Klebbas tell us to expect more of, but no more than, that.


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