PALATKA The only career John L. Mikell
of Palatka has ever known is banking.Mikell, 66, is president and CEO of First Federal Bank of North Florida.
"It has been my life and I wouldn't trade it for anything.It's had its ups and downs."On Monday, he
retires after working there for 37 years.
will do consultant work at the bank two days a week and serve on the bank's board of directors.A fifth-generation Palatkan, he started work at First Federal in 1964 when it was the Palatka Federal Savings and Loan Association.After graduating from the University of Florida with a business degree in 1963, Mikell worked in Jacksonville at the former Atlantic Bank in a bank officer training program before hearing about the Palatka job.
In 1972, he
was named First Federal
president.During Mikell's career, the bank has grown from $5 million in deposits and five employees to today's $227 million in deposits, 92 employees and six branches.He
said the banking industry has almost made a 180 degree shift since he
started in the business.That includes the arrival of computers and technology, such as ATMS."We really took a bold step out when we put in our first underground teller system," Mikell said with laughter.
Now, there is online banking and online bill paying, he
said. "I don't know what I did with my own personal finance and business before we had it.It's fantastic.So you can teach old dogs new tricks," he
said.While the banking business has undergone constant transitions, such as mergers, First Federal has retained its status as a homegrown establishment.Mikell
credited the bank's stability to First Federal's
desire to preserve its independence and niche in the community.Local autonomy allows the bank to respond and be more in tune with the needs of the community people, he
said.Bank employees know customers will work with them to solve problems."We've always had the philosophy that the organization and board didn't belong to the board, it belonged to the community," Mikell
said.Among his most memorable experiences were working with the late Jim Millican, the former head of First Federal and county attorney, and the late Butler Dowda, longtime lawyer and state legislator, who was attorney for the bank.Mikell
appreciated the opportunity to work with both men.First Federal
was started in 1922 as Palatka Building and Loan.In 1934, it was the 34th bank
in the United States to be chartered as a savings and loan.Dowda helped to obtain the charter.Mikell
said in the 1970s First Federal's
business primarily focused on mortgages and savings accounts.In the 1980s, it began becoming more and more like a regular commercial bank.Mikell
said there have been offers to sell the bank, "but when you do that, you lose your local autonomy."First Federal
survived the 1929 Great Depression crash and the "savings and loan fiasco" of the 1970s and 1980s when many such institutions folded, Mikell