Jamie Nelson had been president and CEO of Farmers Security Bank in Washburn, N.D., for about a year when the bank’s owner, Jan Stroup, walked into her office one day in March of 2018 and made a simple announcement: “I’d like to sell you the bank.” In actuality it was three banks in western North Dakota: Farmers Security and its sister charters, Bank of Turtle Lake and Garrison State Bank & Trust.
The next generation of Stroups had interests primarily outside of finance, Jan Stroup had come to realize, and he wanted to pass the banking baton into Nelson’s extremely capable hands. It took about two years to get the technical details of the sale ironed out (Nelson is the majority owner, but Stroup and his wife have kept a minority stake). Nelson and Stroup met at the Bank of North Dakota in Bismarck to sign paperwork on March 5, 2020. Little did she know what precisely lay ahead.
As a freshly minted owner, Nelson then faced down the economic turmoil and pandemic uncertainty facing community banks across the country. “It was extremely stressful but also very rewarding when we made it through that first year and were able to help as many people as we did,” she said. “And also to be able to continue to employ the 60 people who worked at the bank.”
As the effects of the pandemic began to ebb, Nelson and the holding company board realized that the best path forward required a charter consolidation. And, with that knowledge, they knew the combined institution would need a new name as well. With a customer base stretching into South Dakota and Montana, the bank couldn’t zero in on a particular geographic area in its new moniker, which also had to convey the character of the institution at a glance.
Thus, TruCommunity Bank was born, with final integration of core systems at the four-branch bank happening this summer, just before Nelson picked up plaudits as one of BankBeat magazine’s 2022 “Outstanding Women in Banking.”
Originally from the southeast corner of North Dakota, Nelson got into banking through a college job that was initially supposed to be temporary. But after logging a few hours as a customer service rep helping with consumer loans, she realized she’d found her vocation. “I think after two weeks working in the industry, I was like, ‘Yep, this is my passion’,” she said.
When she and her husband landed in Washburn in 2007, she applied for a job at the only bank in town. “No matter where you go or what you do, being a banker is a privilege,” she said. “There really is no greater feeling than helping customers, whether it’s a successful farming year or buying their first home or helping them start a business. It’s a pretty great honor.”
After getting her start as a loan assistant with Farmers Security, Nelson helped launch a mortgage department that eventually expanded to all three banks of the holding company. Now it’s run by two lenders based in Garrison and Washburn, both of whom rose through the ranks from customer service representatives. Seeing their development, and the development of her other staff, is a pleasure for Nelson.
She’s also spent time on the services board of the North Dakota Bankers Association, moving onto the main board this summer. NDBA President and CEO Rick Clayburgh has found her contributions to discussions well-balanced and thought-provoking.
“Jamie doesn’t just sit back and allow the discussion to occur,” he said. “If she has input to share, she participates and is thoughtful in her discussion and deliberation, and does it in a way that’s really positive and upbeat and focused on solving the problems we’re facing.
“She’s a go-getter, not someone who will sit on her hands,” Clayburgh said.
Christie Huber Obenauer, immediate past NDBA chair and herself a 2019 “Outstanding Women in Banking” honoree, expressed her appreciation more forcefully. “She works her ass off for the community she’s planted herself in,” she said.
In Huber Obenauer’s estimation, Nelson is the quintessential community banker: A hard worker who is the bedrock of her community, one who makes financial dreams into realities through loans and guidance while contributing in dozens of other less tangible ways, from the church finance committee to serving as a passionate area booster.
Nelson is quick to spread the praise around to her team, those who know her are emphatic that her place at the helm of the bank is well-earned and crucial to its success. Huber Obenauer’s assessment of Nelson is simple: “She’s quietly aggressive, and doesn’t like to be in the spotlight but is incredibly goal-oriented.”
That goal is clear to anyone who speaks to Nelson, in her focus on the financial health of her community and her institution and the role she can play in making that goal a reality.