For most southeastern Idaho ranchers such as Doug Ward, an annual operating loan is the financial lifeblood of their business.

“We couldn’t operate without it,” says Ward, 59, who runs 300 cows and raises hay on about 300 acres near Almo just north of the remote Idaho-Utah border.

A third generation rancher, Ward applies for the annual infusion of cash at one of Idaho’s oldest banks. Established in 1904 in the small town of Albion about 30 miles from Ward’s ranch, D.L. Evans Bank is the same bank his dad and grandad used.

Ward relies on Kent Gunnell, commercial ag loan officer and assistant manager, not only for the loan, but also for information about new lending practices and financial assistance in case of emergencies.

“You can’t budget for unpredictable events,” says Ward. “Sometimes a tractor needs major repair or replacement or other things happen, so it’s good to know I can extend out my payments. Kent’s really on the ball and gets paperwork processed on time.”

Ward says he appreciates a banker who takes the time to know his clients.

“I can sit down and tell him what my needs are, and we go from there,” says Ward.

To help clients, Gunnell has sometimes advised them to rewrite their business plan, estimating their income conservatively.

“If unforeseen things happen, it gives you a buffer,” Gunnell says. “We sometimes advise borrowers to write a personal budget, too, to help them make decisions about their money.”

Gunnell says generations of families, such as the Wards, have supported the bank for more than a century and helped build it into what it is today.

“We’re on a first-name basis with most people who walk through our doors,” Gunnell says. “Our customers are like friends and repay their loans, so we don’t have the losses a larger city bank might have. They know that if a problem arises or if they want to discuss financial objectives, they can talk to someone face-to-face instead of a person at an 800 number.”

The bank was Cassia County’s first financial institution. When state Sen. D.L. Evans established it for farmers and ranchers in remote areas, he said, “Banking is really just about one thing: helping people.” The bank was capitalized with $25,000.

Today, the third-generation, family-owned community bank has more than $1.2 billion in assets with 28 full-service branches and seven mortgage lending offices across Southern Idaho.

The bank’s headquarters eventually moved from Albion, a town of 270, to Burley, a town of 10,500 about 18 miles to the northwest.

At the Albion branch, Gunnell says a small town atmosphere still prevails.

“We’ve stayed true to our founder’s goals about helping people.”

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