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First Bank employee celebrates 50 years

Friendly community keeps her there

Sept. 10, 2012

City of Oconomowoc - In 1955, Mary Sharp went down to First Bank - then called Bank of Oconomowoc - on a lead about a job. The growing bank needed help, and Sharp had recently moved to Oconomowoc straight from Germany after she married her husband, who she met in her homeland.

The bank hired her on the spot. Fifty years later, neither have looked back on the decision.

While the job was necessary to help support her family, the people at her job and her new home are what have made the last 50 years memorable, Sharp said. She said Bank of Oconomowoc was known as "the friendly bank"; others commonly called it "the bank on the corner." Her stories make the bank sound similar to the friendly bar on Cheers, "where everyone knows your name." It's likely everyone does know Sharp, having gotten to know her over the decades she's worked in many roles at the business. Starting out as head of bookkeeping on Sept. 7, 1962, Sharp remembers struggling with English as her primary language. While she spoke it, her native tongue is German, and keeping pace with the new dialect and slang posed a challenge. But she said everyone was friendly and patient.

Beyond speaking a different language, Sharp had to learn to read a different one. Not because she couldn't read English, but because she had to decipher and memorize signatures of all bank employees who received paychecks. The task would be daunting to anyone. In the days before direct deposit, bookkeepers had to post paychecks based on signatures, in alphabetical order.

"I remember I had a headache for 10 days," Sharp said with a chuckle. But she said the friendly culture of the bank made that task, along with many others bearable.

"I felt at home at the bank. There was so much kindness. Everyone pitched in and helped each other," she said.

Looking back on the tedious tasks one had to do before the age of computers, Sharp acknowledged she can't imagine the manual entry world today. But no matter the task or the tools, Sharp said she always strives to give the best customer service, "and I think it showed," she said.

"Many of my customers say, 'You can't retire yet.' They are a big pull," for her to stay, she said.

So for now she'll continue her post at First Bank Financial Centre in downtown Oconomowoc. Sharp said the landscape of the downtown has changed over the last half century. She said the many small mom-and-pop shops have gone away as progress has shifted retail in a new direction. However, she said strong family ties remain in Oconomowoc, as she's seen generations running family businesses come to the bank.

Sharp said no matter how many years pass in Oconomowoc, one thing remains the same: the people.

"I love the American people. When a need arises, or someone needs help, they are there and everyone pitches in," she said.

To commemorate Sharp's anniversary, everyone was invited to celebrate in at least one way last week as a giant cake stood at the bank's front doors.

Everyone was invited to grab a slice and enjoy the sweetness of half a century of work, memories, laughs and more thanks to Mary Sharp.

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