The Harlins of Gainesville
We talked with John Harlin, fourth generation bank president, to hear about the bank's history from one who watched it grow.
"When I was a child, the bank was such a huge part of our lives, and yet the bank in those days seems so tiny from where we are today. Mom and Dad had to be in there all the time. And I remember my father and grandfather working in there six to seven days a week. Some people thought we had lots of money. I know we were more secure financially than many people in those days, but none of it came easy. Compared to most people's lives today, it was a meager, hand-to-mouth existence. There was no margin for error. It seemed such drudgery to me that when I was a young man there were two things I knew I would never do. I would never live in Gainesville and I would never work in anybody's bank."
John Harlin left Gainesville to serve his time in the military, finished college, married his college sweetheart, Linda Fleenor of Houston, and the two settled in West Plains, where they started a business.
"The plan, if you could call it a plan, was to get Linda set up in the shop (a clothing store) and then I would do something else, something that was pretty undefined in my mind. Maybe go into sales, something like that. But we discovered that my presence was needed more in the store. Someone needed to do the drudge work, stocking shelves, keeping the books. So I decided to find something part-time."Harlin said he decided to talk to Jack MacFarland at the First National Bank. MacFarland hired him.
"It was the best thing that could have happened. They just used me where they needed me, which was everywhere. I ran the bookkeeping machine, kept track of loans on an old Boston ledger. I experienced every aspect of the business, and started seeing banking from a whole different perspective. I saw the whole picture, and it was fascinating. "Harlin said there may have been some discussion or collusion between his father and MacFarland that helped give him his banking education. But fate soon stepped in to change his life even more.
"I went to work at First National in August of 1963. In February, 1964, my uncle died, which left an opening here in the bank. Dad asked me to make a decision. I took my time, because it was a major change in our lives. In the fall of 1965, I decided, and on February 1, 1966, we moved back to Gainesville. It seemed like something I couldn't avoid. Looking back, it didn't seem like a momentous decision at the time. But it has been one of the defining moments of my life. I guess it's like that for most people. As a young person banking was something I couldn't imagine doing on purpose. You have all these things you want to do. But as you get older and change, you begin to see things differently. "
Today the Bank of Gainesville has become Century Bank of
the Ozarks. They have a branch office in Ava (the former Douglas County
Bank). They also have branches in Theodosia and Bakersfield.