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Great customer service has kept Fargo attorney Mike Williams a personal and professional Bell Bank customer for more than 25 years.
“The people I deal with know who I am,” Mike said. “They know what my needs are, and they’re willing to go the extra mile to meet every banking need I might have.”
When Maring Williams Law Office started 25 years ago, they were looking for a bank that was friendly, wasn’t so big they’d be lost in the congestion of everyday business, and could meet all of their business needs, Mike said. They also wanted to find a bank where they could have an actual conversation with someone when they called.
“We talked to several banks in town. There were people at State Bank we knew really well. It was really no contest,” he said. “At the beginning of our search process, we thought we would end up with State Bank, and we did.”
From day one, State Bank of Fargo, now Bell Bank, has been an important part of Maring Williams’ business, said Mike, who is an owner, shareholder and actively practicing attorney of the law firm. The firm’s other senior partner and owner is Dave Maring.
Maring Williams Law Office specializes in litigation, primarily focusing on personal injury cases. The firm also provides services in the areas of wrongful death, commercial litigation, professional liability, products liability, and general insurance cases. Maring Williams has offices in Fargo and Bismarck, N.D., and Detroit Lakes, Minn.
Val and Bernie Manock of Breckenridge, Minn., began banking with Bell in 1997. They became Bell customers after their bank was acquired by Bell.
They enjoy the customer service and the small town feel of Bell’s Breckenridge branch.
“I like the idea of banking with a small bank,” said Val, who also had an account with a small community bank in Kent, Minn. “I always have since I opened my first checking account.”
Val and Bernie moved their checking account to Bell. Val really likes Bell’s free checking account, with extras like free check blanks. She also likes her Bell Bank debit card.
Val likes the personal connection with Bell’s employees, and that they know her by name. She is also thankful that local employees will help her and her husband if they ever need help.
“I like the small bank feeling,” she said. “I like the people. They are easy to talk to. When you are stuck and you need a solution to a problem, they are there to help. I have always been satisfied. I wouldn’t switch my bank ever.”
Stacy Birch has been a Bell Bank customer for two years and said she recommends the bank to everyone she sees. She switched banks after one of her former co-workers, Darby Amundson, started working at Bell.
“Since day one, she has raved about how fantastic a company Bell is,” Stacy said. “She enjoys going to work every day. We couldn't help but make the switch after hearing her great testimonial as an employee and customer!”
Stacy said she typically banks at the West Fargo branch on Sheyenne Street, and she likes how helpful and friendly Bell’s employees are.
“Everyone who has helped us get started has always had a smile and wonderful knowledge to give,” she said. “They have even stayed late to make sure we had everything how we wanted it. I’m so impressed by the employees’ willingness and sincerity to help.”
Her favorite feature, she said, are the bank’s extended hours.
“It makes it so much easier for people like us who cannot make it to the bank until after 6 p.m.,” said Stacy, who with her husband, Aaron, runs a home daycare in West Fargo.
Stacy and Aaron were also the recipients of Bell’s Pay It Forward program, which gives employees money to donate to people and organizations in need. They received the money five years ago after their son, Aksel died.
“Our family was graciously gifted the Pay It Forward money to help with NICU (neonatal intensive-care unit) expenses,” she said. “I still cry to this day thinking about how much that meant and still means to our family.”
When Janet Weisberg founded Hold Your Horses, a nonprofit organization that uses horses to help people with disabilities, 10 years ago, she said she struggled to set up the organization while working with a big bank.
“After the transition to Bell Bank, it was clear we had found our financial home,” she said. “Bell has been a partner in many ways in getting this organization up and off the ground.”
Bell gave Janet and Hold Your Horses personal service, a person – not a machine – to answer the phone and her questions, and a network of people interested in supporting organizations that do good work, she said.
“I started at a big bank and was just drowning,” Janet said. “I just couldn’t get the help and support I needed.”
Working with a bank she could count on eliminated unnecessary stress, she said.
“We’re working very hard to build connections with our family and clients that we serve, and Bell is offering connections for our organization,” Janet said. “At the bigger bank, I felt isolated and like it didn’t matter what I did or said or what our organization was. With Bell, I feel like we matter.”
Hold Your Horses has helped improve the lives of children with physical and cognitive disabilities by providing occupational therapy that involves working with a horse.
“It helps them to move their bodies in a more functional and healthier way,” Janet said.
The organization also offers mental health programming, primarily for young women who are survivors of sex trafficking in Minnesota.
“For both the children with disabilities and the mental health population, the horse offers a novel treatment environment that opens up pathways for new learning,” Janet said. “It’s very hard to recreate what we offer in any other setting.”
For mental health clients, Janet said it engages their minds and bodies and gives them the opportunity to work on communication skills, boundaries and self-regulation.
“Nothing makes you mindful more than standing next to a 1,200 pound animal,” she said. “Teenagers need a certain amount of risk before they’re going to engage. We’re offering them a healthy risk to engage in that really gives them an onramp to wellness.”
Bell has been a sponsor for Hay There, a fall fundraiser for Hold Your Horses. The organization has also been a beneficiary of Pay It Forward funds. Bell’s Pay It Forward program gives employees money to donate to people and organizations in need.
“We’re really grateful for that,” Janet said. “We’re offering a pretty meaningful and purposeful treatment intervention to some populations who need it and are benefiting from it.”
As a farmer who also owns a local excavating company, Jared Nordick doesn’t have time to stand around waiting for the bank to open.
“I can run in and deposit a check at 8 o’clock and be back home by 8:15,” he said. “If they didn’t open until 9 o’clock as a farmer it seems like the day is already half over by then.”
Jared uses Bell Bank’s Breckenridge, Minn., and Wahpeton, N.D., branches, but he also appreciates being able to receive customer service over the phone. Whether it has been a question about his debit card, or needing to reset his password, he appreciates receiving helpful customer service by phone.
“I don’t always have time as a farmer and business owner to run to town to do things,” he said. “They are always willing to help fix things for you. They have always been willing to go the extra mile for me.”
Jared said Bell Bank’s approach to personal customer service makes it much easier to do business with Bell than other banks.
He said if he has a need as a farmer and business owner, like seeking a loan, Bell employees are willing to sit down and help him right away.
Jared said he also appreciates Bell’s hours.
“I appreciate that they are open longer hours and on a lot of holidays, so you can stop at a branch and take care of things,” Jared said. “That especially helps people who work during the week.”
The financial crisis of 2008-2009 led Dan Andersen to Bell Bank. He said a friend, who is an attorney with good business sense, recommended Dan bank with Bell.
Dan is a real estate developer whose business was extremely successful until the economic downturn.
“It was nothing but playing defense,” he said. “We were on a shoestring budget.”
When he met with Bell, Dan said they understood that he was trying to rebuild.
“During that rebuilding process, I had an unsurmountable amount of confidence in the people at Bell,” he said. “I created some good friendships there. They were genuinely concerned and wanted to make sure that I had every tool available to me.”
When he’d see people from the bank out in public, Dan said they would ask him how he was doing, and they truly cared about the answer. It wasn’t just a surface conversation.
“It’s a very real friendship, a give-and- take relationship,” he said. “That does not exist at big corporate banks.”
Craig and Diane Pausch enjoyed working with Darci Eggen when she was at another bank. When Darci started working at Bell Bank in Wahpeton, they followed her.
“We loved her,” Diane said. “When she left, we were devastated. We just followed her here.”
When Bell Bank opened up shop in Wahpeton in 2007, the branch didn’t have its own building yet. “They were banking out of a motel room,” Diane said. “We were one of their first customers.”
The Pauschs operate a farm about 20 miles west of Wahpeton. They use Bell Bank for all their business and personal accounts and farm lending needs.
“We have gotten so many people to change over because of our positive experiences,” Diane said. “They have all been very, very happy that they switched.”
Craig said he likes Bell Bank’s personal touch and customer service.
“They’ve been real easy to work with,” he said. “They always have time for you. If we need something, they are willing to sit down and work it out. Everything we have ever wanted to do, they have done. It’s been a good experience all the way around. When you walk in, they know you. It’s just a real friendly atmosphere.”
Diane agrees that the way Bell Bank treats customers and employees’ willingness to go above and beyond stand out.
“They are so caring. They are very courteous,” she said. “If you have a problem or need something, they will help you or guide you to someone who can help, or help you find the info. You see their employees out in public and they say, ‘Hi.’ They know you. You’re a face, not a number.”
Cindy Trane has been a Bell Bank customer ever since the company opened a branch in Pelican Rapids, Minn., in 2004. One of her customers worked for Bell and told her she could get her a better loan deal, so Cindy decided to switch.
Cindy has stayed with the bank because of the customer service she has received and the products the bank offers, like lines of credit for overdraft protection.
It has also been easy for Cindy to take out loans, no matter what they’ve been for, she said. At her previous bank, Cindy said even taking out a small loan was difficult.
“Bell makes everything so easy to do,” she said. “There is no jumping through hoops.”
Kristie Fredrickson hasn’t been banking with Bell Bank for very long, but she’s already a loyal customer. She and her husband set up accounts with Bell before moving to the Fargo area in July.
Both her daughter, who works for Bell, and her mom, who also banks here, highly recommended the company, Kristie said.
“The bank’s core values include treating employees and customers as family and offering unequalled service. I can attest to Bell’s value for customers,” Kristie said. “I don’t always go to the same Bell Bank location. Regardless of which branch I choose, Bell’s employees have responded to my banking needs with excellence, including friendly, knowledgeable customer service, and a hometown touch, which includes small talk outside of banking needs.”
Kristie and her husband moved to the area to be closer to their grown children, she said. The loan officer they worked with at Bell was helpful and offered suggestions they had not considered. He also worked with their relator and was timely with paperwork requested for the home closing, she said.
“We were impressed with Bell’s customer service from our first experience,” she said.
The bank also demonstrates unequalled service through its community outreach, said Kristie, who lives in Dilworth Minn., runs a nonprofit website, is active in her church and volunteers for The Perry Center, a West Fargo-based organization that helps young, unwed mothers.
“Bell’s Pay It Forward campaign generously and consistently gives to the community,” she said. “Bell’s value for customers and people within the community is what I most like about the bank. Others must agree with me, because Bell is the largest privately owned bank in the upper Midwest.”
Gary Becklund has banked with Bell Bank in Fergus Falls, Minn., ever since Linda Knutson started working for the company in 2007.
“She does an excellent job,” he said.
Linda is a vice president and branch manager for Bell’s Fergus Fall’s location. Gary has worked with her for years.
He also said he likes the customer service he gets at Bell.
“I like the cookies, the coffee. It’s friendly,” Gary said. “Everybody knows you. That makes a big difference. It’s more personal.”
Judy and Roger Rustad have banked at Bell Bank’s West Fargo branch for more than 50 years – ever since it was First National Bank.
“We have had no problems,” Judy said, adding that the employees have been very helpful.
Judy said she also likes how friendly Bell’s employees are and that she gets to know them, and they have gotten to know her, which makes it easier to talk to them.
“I like that they know you when you come in,” she said. “You’re not just a number. They’re willing to help you. They’ll go the extra mile to help you.”
When the Rustads had an issue with a check, Judy said Bell employees sat down with them and figured out the problem.
“We would never have figured it out,” she said. “That really helps.”
Matt Myrvold of Fargo-based MVM Contracting has grown his business considerably over the past eight years, and Bell State Bank & Trust has been right there with him.
The contracting company does “a little bit of everything” having to do with utilities and technology, including water, sewer, fiber optics, home security, digital surveillance and gas line installation, Matt said.
“To manage the growth and to work with Bell and manage the ups and downs of slow economic times, it’s been great to have Chris Schenck (senior vice president and business banking officer in Moorhead) and the others to be with us along the way,” Matt said. “He’s one of the best bankers I’ve ever worked with.”
Matt started banking with Bell State Bank & Trust when he was a teenager in the 1990s. He opened his first account at the Moorhead branch and still does most of his banking there. He now has several accounts and has also used services like home equity loans and business lines of credit at Bell.
“It means the world to me to be able to take care of everything at Bell,” he said.
Matt said he likes the service he gets at Bell and how the bank can handle what he needs.
“Bell Bank is the best bank that I’ve ever had,” he said. “You call up, you get to know people. It’s more of a personal experience versus a day-to-day operation.”
Because of his experiences, Matt has referred around 75 people to Bell over the years.
“I don’t do it for the money,” he said. “I do it because the people I work with get things done.”
Through Bell’s Refer-A-Friend program, customers can earn $50 each time they refer a new customer, who opens a personal checking account, to Bell.
It was 1971 when Warren Swenson started banking at State Bank of Fargo’s branch next to the Northport Shopping Center in north Fargo. At the time it was the bank’s only branch.
Warren likes that tellers at Bell greet him by name.
“They are friendly and they get to know you,” he said. “You are not a number. They say, ‘Hi, Warren,’ when you walk in the bank.”
One time Warren mentioned to the staff at the bank’s South University location in Fargo that they were out of cookies. An employee at the bank baked a fresh batch of cookies and brought over a box of cookies to him at his work the same day. “Banks don’t do that,” Warren said.
He said he also been impressed with the customer service he has received at the bank, and over the phone. Warren remembers being helped when he has needed help with his account and password security. “I’ve even called them and asked them a question,” he said. “They had to check with their manager, but they called me right back.”
It is not uncommon for customers to develop relationships with bank employees they see often. But Carol Moran, a customer at our Detroit Lakes branch, is so fond of the staff that she makes knoephla soup and apple bars and brings it to them to show her appreciation.
As Carol said, “They are very helpful. They spend time with you. You are never rushed or pressured. You are treated as a person, not a number. It’s just like they are family. We have nothing but good things to say.”
Carol and her husband, John, have banked at Bell since 2006 when their daughter, Kari Williams, worked at Bell before buying a restaurant.
“I don’t think we’d want to go to any other bank,” John said. “It’s been a good relationship all the way through. I don’t really care to be called ‘Mister.’ We know most of the people at the bank by their first name and the employees know us by name.”
Roy Wicker will turn 100 years old Dec. 12, and in his entire adult life, he has never switched banks.
He started banking with First National Bank in Hawley, Minn., and when Bell Bank purchased First National in 2012, he stayed.
“I like the service and all of the people,” he said. “They’ve always helped me.”
Roy is a bit of a town fixture, said Susan Johnson, a customer service representative in Bell’s Hawley branch.
“He’s quite a mainstay in Hawley,” she said. “Everybody knows Roy.”
He has worked at the post office and taken care of the cemetery, and he ran a movie theater in town for a while. For years, Susan said Roy would stop by the bank every afternoon for a cookie, coffee and visit. Susan said she misses Roy now that he isn’t able to stop by as often.
“These long-term customers, they’re in my heart,” she said. “I look forward to seeing them.”
And Roy said it means a lot to him that everybody at his bank knows him.
“At my age, I call in a lot, and I like to know what my bank balance is,” he said. “They give it to me right away. Sometimes I pester them a couple days in a row, and they’re always very polite to me.”
Roy, a U.S. Army veteran, was born in Fargo and grew up in Hawley (the oldest of his 11 siblings). His wife, Rhoda, was a Navy veteran, and they met in the service.
“She outranked me,” he said. “She still does.”
They had nine children, nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Brent E. Frazier, the mayor of Pelican Rapids, has been a Bell Bank customer ever since the bank opened a branch in town in 2004.
“There weren’t a lot of fees involved with transactions,” Brent said. “And the bank has the hometown feel of a smaller bank with courteous, friendly staff.”
That community feeling is important to Brent, who has worked for the city of Pelican Rapids for more than 37 years. He and his wife, JoAnn, are involved with many community events, including managing the concession stands for Pelican Rapids High School athletic events.
Brent said he likes that Bell’s employees know him and call him by name and that when he has questions, he can call and talk to a person. He’s even recommended the bank to others.
“It’s part of a family network within our community,” he said. “I’m happy Bell Bank is a part of our community because of their hometown feeling. I feel a part of their family. That’s important to each and every one of us who bank here.”
After Betty Jacobson graduated from high school in 1949, she received a call from someone at First National Bank in Hawley asking if she wanted a job. She worked there for a few years and has been banking there ever since.
Bell Bank purchased First National Bank, with locations in Hawley and Dilworth, Minn., in 2012, and Betty said it’s still her hometown bank.
“When I go into the bank, they know me. I’m not just a number. That means a lot,” she said. “In these bigger banks, they don’t know you. You’re just a number. Here you’re a person.”
Whenever Betty stops by, she also takes time to visit with the employees and, of course, have a cookie.
“It’s a personal feeling,” she said. “I feel welcome.”
Betty likes the bank so much that she has recommended it to others.
“The bank has been very good to us,” she said.
As soon as Bell Bank opened a Breckenridge, Minn., branch in 2013, Rondo Weinkauf became a customer.
“I knew some of the people who worked there,” he said. “They were good to me, so I thought would give it a try.”
The customer service has kept him a Bell customer and motivated him to recommend the bank to others.
“If you’re familiar with the show, Cheers, it’s the bank where everyone knows your name,” Rondo said. “They’ve been very good to me.”
The personal recognition and personal service means a lot to Rondo, he said.
“They’re right there for you. They go out of the way to help,” he said. “I’m very happy with the service. Even when I’m not in the bank, if I see someone who works there, they will say hi to me.”
Linda and Bud Mellon have been Bell Bank customers since the company opened a full-service branch in Fergus Falls, Minn., in 2007.
Linda’s cousin Karen Stensrud, Bell’s vice president of content marketing strategy, recommended the Mellons switch banks. The people they had worked with at their former bank also moved to Bell, so they decided to make the switch.
“They were our trusted advisors, and we wanted to continue working with them,” Linda said.
They’ve stayed for nearly 10 years because there are no fees, and Bell’s employees seem so happy in their jobs, Linda said. She also likes that when she goes into Bell Bank, the employees call her by name.
“Everyone likes to feel like their business matters,” she said. “I feel like that when we go into Bell Bank. It’s nice to pick up the phone if I have a problem and have it dealt with in minutes, and it’s nice to have a real person answer the phone. I like that.”
Linda said she’s not the most tech-savvy person, but whenever she’s had issues with online banking, she’s had great tech help. Linda is so happy with her bank that she’s recommended it to others, and she said both of her daughters also bank with Bell.
“It’s just a good place to be,” she said. “I think the people who work there feel like it’s a good place to be.”
She said she also likes that Bell gives back to the communities it serves.
“Obviously they’re in business to make money, but they’re appreciative of the people they serve,” she said. “I like that they support education and the arts. I’m proud that the people I do business with are a vital part of the community. I also think the Pay It Forward program is a terrific way for the bank to involve employees in philanthropic endeavors!”
Larry and Judy Olson have been banking with Bell Bank since the late 1990s. They typically bank at the Pelican Rapids, Minn., branch and said they like the customer service and that the employees know them personally.
“I like the personalized service,” Larry said. “We stop in and they know us by name. That’s one of the key things.”
They spend half of the year in Florida, and Judy said Bell’s online and mobile banking makes it easy to bank wherever they are.
“All I have to do is look up my balance on my smartphone, and I’m right up-to-date with what’s going on with my bank account,” she said. “It really has worked out well for us banking with Bell and not being in the area.”
Though when they are in the area, Judy said Larry does most of the banking.
“He loves the cookies,” she said. “He always goes in and gets cookies on our way through town.”
They also often travel to Europe, and Larry said it’s easy to use his debit card to take out Euros.
“It works perfectly,” he said.
When they have had issues, Larry said they’re fixed promptly.
“They’ve always been fair,” Larry said. “There have been maybe a few discrepancies through the years, and they always resolve it very quickly.”
Jean L. Burner has been a Bell Bank customer since she started working for what was once First State Bank of West Fargo in 1964. (Bell, then State Bank of Fargo, purchased the bank in 1989.)
She had been working in bookkeeping for another company when it closed. She’d heard that the bank could use some help, so she went to the bank president’s house to apply for the job.
“Of course I got hired,” she said. “They started getting busy right away, and they needed more help.”
Jean worked there 27 years, starting as a teller and working her way up to vice president.
“My favorite thing after the customers was the people I worked with,” she said. “It was a good place to work. It’s pretty important when you enjoy your work.”
After retiring, Jean said she missed her job, but she still occasionally gets together with her former co-workers.
“I’m still friends with some of the employees who are there,” she said.
Though she retired in 1991, Jean said some of her customers haven’t forgotten her.
“To this day, I have customers who still remember me,” she said. “I remember them, too.”
Jean has remained a loyal Bell Bank customer since retiring.
“I just feel dedicated. It’s my bank,” she said. “I’ve never even thought of leaving the bank. This is where I belong.”
The tellers are very friendly, which Jean said means everything to the customers.
“They have a good reputation of friendliness,” she said. “That was the way it was when I started.”
Bob Baumann used to bank with another company, but after his former bank started charging fees if his checking account balance dropped below a certain amount, he decided to switch to Bell Bank.
“I’ve been there ever since,” he said.
That was in the 1970s, and Bell still offers free checking accounts. Bob said it’s the Fargo North Broadway location and the service that has kept him a loyal customer all this time.
He took out a home construction loan with Bell in the 1980s and said he had no problems.
“Anytime I need something, I call,” he said. “I like talking to a person right away instead of going through 16 different recorded messages.”
He said he also likes being able to stop by his branch whenever he needs something without making an appointment.
Bell Bank’s Moorhead branch location drew Lyle and Joan Rich to the bank.
“We’re both Concordia College grads. When we would walk up to the college, we’d walk right by the bank,” Lyle said.
But it’s the service they get and the feel of the bank that has kept them loyal customers for the past 10 years.
“We get very knowledgeable advice for investing,” Lyle said. “And we get friendship.”
Lyle says the lobby with its stone fireplace seems more like a lodge than a bank. He and Joan will stop by even when they don’t have bank business to conduct.
“We have our coffee and delicious cookie,” he said. “We get to meet people from all stages of life. When you talk to people for 10 minutes, we’re in the city, but we’re small-town people, and we get that feeling at the bank. They even laugh at my jokes.”
And when he looks at the fireplace, Lyle said it gives him a feeling of nostalgia. The stones came from Mickey Snortland’s farm near Sharon, N.D. Mickey was a Bell shareholder and longtime director. Before he died in early 2013, he used to personally deliver rocks from his farm to the bank branches for fireplaces and other décor. He did it as a way to connect the bank with his agricultural roots. Employees still pick rocks from Mickey’s farm to use at the bank branches as a way to carry on his legacy.
Lyle’s mother grew up in Sharon, so whenever he sees the fireplace with the stones from Mickey’s farm, Lyle said he thinks of his mother.
“There’s a very good atmosphere and feeling there,” he said.
And when he and his wife visit the branch, the employees know who they are and call them by their names.
“It means we’re more than depositors,” he said. “We are human. It’s very affirming.”
Stacey Gabbert has been a personal and business customer of Bell Bank for two years.
“People are really friendly,” she said. “Whatever I need to get done, they make it very easy.”
She joined because of Vicki Hochstatter, a teller who works at Bell’s South University branch and has been with the company for 10 years.
“She’s really awesome,” Stacey said. “She is such a kind, wonderful lady. It was an easy choice.”
In 2015, Vicki chose Stacey for Bell’s Pay It Forward Community Connect program. That means Bell gave Stacey money to donate to a person or charity of her choice. Because she had done some volunteer work in the past, working as one of Santa’s elves at a children’s hospital in another state, Stacey said she wanted to donate the money to an organization that helps children. She gave it to the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead.
“It’s such a cool thing that the bank does,” Stacey said.
Stacey owns The Green Door, an Aveda hair salon in Fargo, where she also works as a stylist.
“I love doing hair,” she said. “It’s fun, and it doesn’t feel like a job.”
Because it’s an Aveda salon, Stacey said it’s eco-friendly. The bottles are post-consumer recycled and the products are made with plant-based ingredients, so clients can feel good about what’s going down the drain after they shampoo, she said.
As a small-business owner, Stacey said she likes banking at a locally owned company that prioritizes the community and customer service.
“Being the owner of a small-business that focusses on customer service, I appreciate when other local businesses do the same thing,” she said. “I try to support other local businesses.”
Faye Siegle has been a customer of Bell Bank’s Pelican Rapids, Minn., branch since it opened in 2004.
“They’ve been like family to me,” she said. “They are so helpful and friendly.”
Faye’s husband took care of all of their finances, so when he died a year ago, Faye says she came to rely on the bank for help with her accounts.
“The bank has been with me every step of the way, and I appreciate them so much,” she said. “They’re just extremely friendly and very helpful. They make me feel like every question I have is important.”
She likes that the employees know her and call her by name – she’s not just a number at Bell.
“It means everything to me,” she said. “I just appreciate their personal touch. It makes me want to go back there.”
It has also made her refer a lot of people to the bank, and Faye says all of her friends love banking with Bell, too.
But that’s not all Faye likes about the bank.
“One thing I really like…their cookies,” she said with a laugh.
Ingo Keller switched to Bell Bank more than 13 years ago because he was tired of the service he was getting at his former bank. When he would go into the bank, he says the teller never smiled, and whenever he would call, he’d get an automated voice.
“I’d had it with the way they treated me,” he said.
Ingo has been a loyal Bell customer ever since.
“I’m like a walking billboard,” he said. “I’m so happy to be part of your bank.”
Now, Ingo says he looks forward to when he needs to stop by to do business at the bank.
“I’m old-fashioned,” he said. “I like to come in and get my cookie.”
Ingo is such a loyal customer that he’s referred more than two dozen people who have opened accounts with Bell, and he says he’ll probably have referred another two dozen before too long.
“I’m not in it for the money,” he said, alluding to Bell’s refer-a-friend program, which pays customers $50 every time they refer someone, who opens a new checking account, to Bell.
“I just want them to experience what I’m experiencing,” he said. “It’s just been an enlightening experience to be part of Bell Bank. Everybody has always been very nice. I really love that bank.”
When Dave Idso, a senior vice president and commercial lender at Bell Bank, left his former employer to join Bell in 2003, several of his clients followed. One of those clients was Wayne Hartmann of Fargo-based Wheels, Inc.
“He was just so great to work with,” Wayne said.
Wayne does both his personal and business banking with Bell.
“I like the idea of a locally based bank,” he said. “The service we receive at Bell is more personal than we’d had at previous banks.
“Any time we had an unusual situation where we’ve needed an additional amount of credit or temporarily raised credit limit, it was a very simple process. They’ve always accommodated our needs whatever we’ve needed. Everything has worked excellently.”
Wheels, Inc. is a power sports business that sells motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-side UTVs (utility vehicles), jet skis and snowmobiles. The business is starting its 40th year in September.
“We started with one employee in 1977, and now we have 20,” said Wayne, who owns the business. “We struggled for many years, but it has paid off.”
Wheels recently completed a large remodeling job to accommodate the addition of the Indian Motorcycle line – and Bell Bank helped by giving the business a larger credit limit.
“We think that will be an additional boon to our business,” Wayne said.
Doug Halverson has been a Bell Bank customer for more than 30 years, and his experience with Bell goes back a generation. His dad used to work with former president and CEO Richard Solberg in the bank’s first branch in Fargo’s Northport Shopping Center.
“It goes way back with Dick and my father,” Doug said.
Whenever interest rates would drop, Doug said his father would head to the bank to renegotiate his loan.
“Dick and Dave knew that when the rates went down, Halverson would be coming in soon,” he said. “I’ve done the same thing, and I’m very comfortable with the rates and the people I work with.”
They also banked with Dave Idso before he moved to Bell in 2003. As soon as Bell hired Dave, who works as a senior vice president and commercial lender, Doug followed him. He now has several personal and business accounts here.
“If I need something, the pieces of the puzzle have already been put in place,” Doug said. “I don’t have to go through a bunch of rigmarole to get a short-term note. They’re easy to work with – everyone is outstanding.”
Doug said he also likes that he can call Dave whenever he needs something, and Dave will give him an answer.
“That is a huge deal,” Doug said.
And whenever he sees Richard Solberg, Doug said Bell’s board chairman always makes a point to stop and say hi.
Doug had to deal with check fraud last summer and said Bell made an ugly situation easy to deal with.
“The working relationship we’ve had with Bell Bank has been very, very good,” he said.
Doug owns and manages Halverson Property Management, Inc., and he is the managing partner of Fargo-based Halverson Investment Co. – a real estate management company, which manages Heritage House and is the major owner of Scandia Hotel.
The 1980s were a difficult time for the U.S. agricultural industry.
“We were just barely hanging on,” said Margaret Ann Thompson of Tri-T Farms near Barnesville, Minn.
That’s also when her son said he wanted to go into farming.
“We didn’t know how we were going to do that,” she said.
But she and her husband, Tom, met with a banker who told them they’d work on it together.
“We’re still working together,” said Margaret Ann, a longtime Bell Bank customer. “It’s a relationship that we have. They’ve been with us through the good years, and they’ve been with us in the not-so-good years.”
Both Margaret Ann and the farm, which her son took over after Tom’s death four years ago, have been Bell customers for years.
“A big part of it is the high respect they pay their customers and the high degree of professionalism shown though their employees,” Margaret Ann said. “I think they hire the type of people they know will service their customers.”
Nikki Hammer, a customer service representative at Bell, is Margaret Ann’s granddaughter’s best friend. When Nikki told her she was working for Bell, Margaret Ann was thrilled.
“Her entire face lit up,” Nikki said. “She told me how much she loves Bell and how incredible their employees are. She is a prime example of some of the amazing customers we have here at Bell.”
About five years ago, a Bell employee chose Margaret Ann for the Pay It Forward - Community Connect program, which allows employees to give money to a bank customer to donate to another person or organization.
Margaret Ann and Tom were so moved by the program, they started doing something similar for their grandchildren. Every year at Christmas, she gives them money to donate to someone. The next year, they share their stories about what they did with the money.
“It just totally changed our Christmas, from receiving to giving, and it’s thanks to the bank,” Margaret Ann said. “It was just amazing what they picked up on doing. They said it opened their eyes to what was around them.”
Margaret Ann and her family are very involved in their community, helping out with things like the Barnesville Food Pantry, the annual Potato Days festival, church, school and Farm Rescue. So it means a lot to her to bank with a community-minded company.
“I have such respect for Bell that the company reaches out to its communities,” she said. “It’s a banking institution, but it’s so much more than that.”
Curt’s Lock & Key Service is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – and Bell Bank has been the Fargo business’ bank for most of that time.
“They make you feel welcome when you come in,” said Sheryl Dusek, the business’ secretary and Curt’s daughter. “Any questions that you have, they’re able to answer, and you feel like they want to help you.”
Billy Nustad, a longtime commercial lender at Bell, worked closely with Curt’s Lock & Key for many years. Billy has since retired, but works part time for Bell, organizing parade involvement and serving as Bell’s ambassador for the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.
“He was very personable,” Sheryl said.
Sheryl said she also met her husband at the bank 25 years ago when they were in college, and he was working as a teller.
Curt’s Lock & Key started in 1966 after Curt locked himself out of his home, and there was no one who could let him back in. He ended up sending his 4-year-old son through a window to open the door, Sheryl said. It worked, but it also inspired Curt to start his business.
Curt retired in 2003 and turned the business over to his children.
Curt’s Lock & Key typically helps someone locked out of their home every day, Sheryl said. The family business also helps people locked out of their cars and businesses. Curt’s Lock & Key also provides a full range of locksmithing and security-related products and services for homes and businesses.
“The oil business is a very unique kind of business, especially with what we do,” said Mark Bondy, the company’s president and CEO. “We have to build our business on volume, and it’s a low-margin business. It’s a tough, tough business, and there’s a lot of competition.”
There are times when the company needs a great deal of money, he said, and since Dale Petroleum’s start in the early 1980s, Bell Bank has been there.
“We certainly appreciate what they do for us,” he said. “We’ve dealt with great-quality people through the years. We’ve been treated phenomenally well.”
Richard Solberg, Bell’s board chairman and former president, worked closely with Dale Petroleum for many years, Mark said.
“He took a real interest in our business,” Mark said. “He taught us an awful lot and worked with us an awful lot on different things.”
“That attention to detail and personal touch” has not only kept Dale Petroleum with Bell, but it also prompted Mark to open personal accounts and take out a construction loan and mortgage with the bank, he said.
“There have been great people who we’ve gotten to work with all the way through, and that means a lot,” he said. “And we’ve been treated very fairly.”
They were living in Minneapolis, but wanted to move back to the Fargo-Moorhead area. Kent had grown up in Moorhead, and Kathy was from North Dakota. They both went to North Dakota State University before Kent went on to dental school and then specialized in endodontics (which deals with the tooth root, dental pulp and surrounding tissue).
In 1990, Kent found out the only endodontist in North Dakota was selling his Fargo practice. He and Kathy wanted to buy it, but they already had a lot of school loans and didn’t know who would loan them the money they needed.
Kent’s grandfather had been friends with Richard Solberg’s father. Richard is a Bell State Bank & Trust shareholder and board chairman, who was the bank’s president at the time. So Kent’s dad suggested they ask Bell (then State Bank of Fargo) for a loan.
They got the loan, bought the business, purchased a house within six months, and have been with the bank ever since.
“They really believed in us and gave us a chance,” Kathy said. “Richard Solberg and his staff were so wonderful. We just really feel like we were blessed in being given that chance.”
They still have the practice, Dr. Kent Spriggs Endodontics, and they’ve been loyal Bell customers ever since.
“I feel we can call the bank up and they’ll take care of anything,” Kathy said. “I really love what they stand for in doing what’s right and honest.”
She said she also likes that when she stops by the Southpointe branch, where she does most of her banking, employees always greet her by name and ask about her weekend.
“I’m happy to recommend the bank to anybody,” she said.
Great service and trust are the reasons Patrick Kasper has been a Bell State Bank & Trust customer for more than 20 years.
“It’s the great service and the nice people,” he said. “Knowing people when I go in there – you establish a relationship and then you trust them.”
Patrick, a motivational speaker, fitness guru and the creator of the mind-body fitness team-building program Positive Motion, started banking with Bell in 1995. He’s used the bank for personal and business accounts as well as car loans.
He said he likes that there are so many locations, he’s able to take care of all of his banking needs in one place, and he likes how community-minded the bank is.
After meeting Brenda Messerschmidt, vice president and Moorhead branch manager, in 2004, he has followed her to every branch where she’s worked.
“It’s been great to have Brenda as a representative,” he said.
Patrick said he’s referred around 10 people to Bell through the Refer-a-Friend program, which pays people $50 each time they refer a new customer, who opens a personal checking account, to Bell.
“Refer-a-Friend is great,” he said. “It allows you to tell people about the good experience at Bell, and you get an extra reward for telling people what you like, which I’d do anyway.”
Darin Haverland of West Fargo could be considered a Bell State Bank & Trust super fan.
“Usually if it comes up in conversation, I boast about Bell pretty generously,” he said. “I’m just a big fan of Bell banks and Bell investments.”
Darin has been banking with Bell for 30 years. In addition to his bank accounts, he has also worked with Bell on loans and investments.
“From the first day I opened an account, I had personal connections with several of the people,” he said. “Every time I come into the bank they make eye contact with me and call me by name. That’s what makes me feel like a valued customer.”
Darin said he also likes that there are so many locations and when he calls he talks to a person, not a machine.
“People know me and I know them,” he said. “We have a very personal connection. They’re always so courteous.”
Darin has referred at least a dozen people to Bell and said it’s “pretty generous of the bank” to give him $50 for each referral, but that’s not why he does it.
“I do it because of how nice the customer service is.”
He referred one of his friends to Brenda Messerschmidt, vice president and Moorhead branch manager, who was able to work with her on her finances and helped her save $300 a month through mortgage and consolidation loans, Darin said.
He also said it’s “very classy” that Bell helps people in the communities through its Pay It Forward program, which gives employees money to give to people and organizations in need.
Gladys Nelson of Fargo started banking with Bell State Bank & Trust in 1999 because her daughter had an account here.
“It’s a great small bank,” she said, adding that she is always treated well.
Her nephew-in-law, Dave Idso, also works here as a senior vice president and commercial lender. He’s been with Bell since 2003.
As secretary-treasurer of her condo association, Gladys said she has to handle some of the banking needs, and the tellers are always able to help her with that.
Edie Kritzberger of Moorhead started banking with Bell Bank 20 years ago when the bank opened its Moorhead branch, because of the convenient location.
The branch started as State Bank of Moorhead in 1996, moving to its present location on 8th Street in 2000.
She said she’s stuck with the bank all this time because of the friendly employees.
“They greet me when I come in,” she said. “They help me if I have questions with my accounts. They serve coffee and cookies.”
Edie shows her appreciation by bringing in flowers from her garden. She likes to grow flowers and has brought in peonies, irises and lilies.
“I have an abundance in my yard, and it’s better to share with people than keep them for myself,” she said. “I like working in God’s earth and seeing the beauty that can come of it.”
And employees at our Moorhead branch appreciate Edie sharing her flowers.
“The deal is she brings the flowers, and we supply the vase and water,” said Sandy Torgerson, a receptionist at the Moorhead branch. “We place them at our reception desk for all employees and customers to enjoy when they come into the bank.”
Ernie Bozovsky of Fargo started banking with Bell Bank in 1971 because of the bank’s hours.
“I lived in South Fargo, but we would go to the Northport bank because they were open until 9 o’clock,” he said. “I used to sit down at Dean Wegenast’s desk and he’d give me a 90-day loan in about 10 minutes.”
Dean joined Thomas “Buck” Snortland in chartering State Bank of Fargo, which is now Bell Bank, and was the bank’s accountant when it opened. He retired in 1999, but served as executive secretary of Bell’s board of directors until the end of 2012. He is still actively involved on the board of State Bankshares, the holding company that owns Bell.
Ernie’s first loan, he said, was for a car.
“I was riding a motorcycle back and forth to work in November,” he said. “I needed a car. It was getting kind of cold.”
He’s stuck with the bank because of the service, he said.
“My wife and I, we just love this bank,” Ernie said. “The customer service is just excellent. They’re just as friendly as can be.”
Over the years, he’s gotten loans for cars, motorcycles and snowmobiles through Bell. He financed his mortgage with the bank. And Bell helped him roll over a 401(k) fund to an individual retirement account.
“It means a lot,” to take care of everything in one place, he said.
A few years ago Ernie planned to buy a motorcycle with cash, but it turned out the seller wanted a check. Ernie got to Bell at 6 p.m. and worried the bank would be getting ready to close, but when he found out the bank stays open until 6:05, he was able to get the check he needed to buy the motorcycle.
“I think that’s kind of neat that they give you an extra five minutes,” he said. “I’ve always had good luck with the bank. Over all these years, I’ve never had one mistake.”
Conrad and Dorothy Rose have been Bell Bank customers for about 40 years.
“We used to be at that other bank, and then they turned crappy,” Conrad said.
They switched because when they called their former bank, they had to call a 1-800 number and talk to a machine, Dorothy said. Switching from that to a bank where the employees came to know them by name was wonderful, she said.
“It’s like a hometown bank,” Conrad said. “You come in; you get a chance to talk to people. People talk to you.”
“And they have coffee,” Dorothy said.
“And cookies,” Conrad added.
A couple of times when they were traveling and their account number was compromised, Dorothy said Bell let them know right away and took care of the problem.
Bell also credited them for ATM fees when they travelled, which Conrad said is important.
“It’s very important,” he said. “I don’t carry money anymore. We do everything with the debit card.”
With America’s Best Checking, Bell automatically refunds your first four ATM fees every month from anywhere in the United States and gives you free ATM access with no fees at any Bell on-site ATM or MoneyPass ATM.
The bank has also treated them very well any time they needed a loan, Conrad said, and a Bell employee even went the extra mile when he was having computer problems.
“You’ve got some tremendous employees here,” Conrad said.
He balances his checking account almost daily on his computer. Last fall his computer went down, and he had to get a new one.
“I had to start from scratch. I lost all my programs and all my data,” he said.
He also had to buy a new accounting program, and he had trouble with it. But Travis Smith, a banker support specialist, helped him out.
“I don’t know how many times I called him,” Conrad said. “I don’t know how many times he walked me through the program. That was a tremendous help.”
It was a personal connection that drew Elmer Tarnasky of Fargo to Bell Bank 50 years ago. His wife knew Dean Wegenast from Dakota Business College.
“We started banking there and stayed with them through all the name changes,” Elmer said.
Elmer, who is a semi-retired barber, said it’s the good service that has kept him a loyal Bell customer.
“I have no complaints whatsoever,” he said. “They’ve treated us fairly, so we don’t have any plans of moving.”
Elmer stops by the bank once or twice a month and said most of the employees know him by name.
“It’s great,” he said. “It’s great for any business.”
When he recently bought a condo before selling his house, he took out a bridge loan with Bell because he has been a customer for so long. He said the process went well.
“In 1966, we began a search for a monetary institution. State Bank of Fargo was chosen because it was near our home. The bank has provided us with loans, personal and temporary accounts, league sponsorships and personal advice.
The bank’s friendly employees and convenient hours and locations have kept us a customer for these 50 years. Thank you, Bell State Bank!”
“When State Bank of Fargo first started, the bank was next to Ben Franklin [in the Northport Plaza] and they didn’t even have a counter for people to stand at so they went to Ben Franklin and borrowed an old, unused rabbit cage that they had to use for the teller line.
I fondly remember bank employee Denae Swalstad – she took care of my folks and I with great joy and acceptance. Everyone is always so friendly. It’s like a family.”
Laverne Sansted is a 50-year Bell customer. He is proof that sometimes the best relationship have the simplest, most humble beginnings.
"Basically, Northside Shopping Center was there. The bank was there, and I don't think there was anything on the north side besides the one bank. It was just a few blocks from our house, so why not?"
Donald Galitz started banking with State Bank of Fargo when he moved to the area from Illinois in 1968.
“We had small children so we were looking for something that was close to us,” he said. “Northport was very convenient.”
He’s stayed with Bell Bank over the years because he’s had “no problems whatsoever” and “the service has always been good.”
It’s nice to have a convenient bank where he feels welcome, Donald said.
“I’ve been in there enough that although there’s turnover, I know some of the people who work there and they know me by name,” he said. “It’s always nice to have that personal touch.”
Janice and Don Miller started banking with State Bank of Fargo in 1969 after a recommendation from a real estate company.
“We’ve had good treatment over the years,” Don said. “We use most of the banking services and it’s been very good.”
The Millers live in south Fargo now and like to use the branches on 25th St. S. and South University Drive. They like the personal service they get when they stop by, Janice said.
“They know us by name when we come in,” she said. “It’s nice to have somebody who recognizes you and you’re not just a number. That’s important.”
Julie Klein of West Fargo, N.D., has been a Bell Bank customer for about 22 years.
“It’s nice here,” she said of the bank. “We always get good service.”
Julie is originally from Breckinridge, Minn. Her husband, Bob, who used to farm, would get together weekly for coffee with Thomas “Buck” Snortland, an original founder of the bank. Bob shares stories from time to time about how Buck was always helping others and had a kind heart for those less fortunate.
Julie has another personal connection to the bank. Her daughter-in-law is Julie Peterson Klein, Bell’s chief culture officer, who has been with the company for 17 years. She said her husband, Tate, used to join his dad and Buck for their weekly coffee get-togethers “because it was much more fun to be around Buck than to attend his college classes.”
Lowell Greuel is so well-known at Bell Bank’s Fargo Southpointe location that he has his own coffee cup stored at the branch.
“We’d save coffee for him, so I made him a coffee mug that said, ‘Lowell’s bank mug,’ ” said Maureen Bartelt, a banker support manager at Bell, who started in the Southpointe location in 2005 as a part-time teller.
Lowell, who lives in Fargo some of the year and in Mesa, Ariz., the rest, said he has been a Bell customer more than 30 years. He visits the Southpointe location at least once or twice a week for coffee and conversation.
“I stop at the 25th Street bank and pick on the girls there all the time,” he said. “Sometimes we do business, too.”
The excellent customer service he said he receives has kept him a loyal Bell customer.
“I don’t know how they remember my name; sometimes I can’t even remember it,” he joked. “When I call the bank I get ahold of a person, not a machine. To me that means a lot. At my age it’s so nice to have somebody pick up the phone to say, ‘Hi, how can I help you,’ without having to push a bunch of buttons.”
Lowell is so loyal that he made sure to stop by Bell’s 50th anniversary customer-appreciation party Friday, May 6, even though he had just arrived in Fargo from Mesa.
“You’ve got to keep your priorities straight,” he said.
Aldo Brunelle started banking with Bell Bank when the company opened in north Fargo 50 years ago.
“I’ve always been happy here,” he said.
Aldo, who is in his 80s and still farms near Argusville, N.D., said it’s the people who have kept him with the bank all these years.
“They have lovely people here,” he said. “They treat you like family.”
Tammy Irion has been a Bell Bank customer for 16 years – ever since she and her husband, Neal, married. They even got their first home mortgage through Bell.
“They’ve met every need that we’ve ever had,” she said of the bank. “They’re easy to work with. It’s just personal. It’s like family.”
Tammy and her husband used to bank at the Dilworth, Minn., branch. When she and her family moved to Maplewood, Minn., she was happy to discover Bell had recently opened a branch in Woodbury, Minn. She was even happier to find people she recognized working in the branch.
“It was just like home because there were all these people from Fargo,” she said. “We could talk Bison with them.”
Tammy and her daughter, Emily, who is now 7, were recently involved in a Pay It Forward project with Angela Buchardt, a customer service representative in the Woodbury branch.
Angela learned that Tammy and Emily sewed and sold bags as part of a business they had just launched called Sweet Pea and Me Homemade Designs. Angela decided to use her Pay It Forward dollars from Bell to buy 25 bags to donate to a local charity or business.
Tammy and Emily were thrilled to participate. They made 13 owl bags and 12 dinosaur bags to give to Children's Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota’s rehabilitation unit, which manages care for children with complex needs, such as autism spectrum disorders, speech impediments, developmental delays, and recovering from an accident or living with a chronic condition.
“The whole thing was a great experience for our family and a tremendous blessing to Emily and me,” Tammy said.
Vern Otterson of Fargo said he has been a customer of Bell Bank throughout the company’s 50 years.
“It’s always been good,” he said.
He usually does his banking at Bell’s main office in Fargo and said he likes that employees know who he is.
“I know quite a few of these people here,” he said. “It’s very nice.”
Vern made a point to stop by Bell’s 50th anniversary celebration recently to have some cake and share some stories with employees and fellow customers.