Heralded as Socorro County’s only locally owned and operated financial institution, the venerable First State Bank reached a milestone this month of serving customers for three-quarters of a century.
Its long-awaited grand opening was on July 1, 1947.
Prior to 1947, Socorro County was a “banking desert.”
Flashback to 1920, when the county boasted no less than five banks: one in Socorro, two in Magdalena, one in San Marcial, and one in San Antonio. Over that decade, one by one, they all shuttered. The Socorro State Bank closed in 1922 resulting in sizeable losses for depositors and stockholders, and the devastating flood of 1929 in San Marcial spelled doom for the bank there.
In the intervening years, people had to travel to Belen, Albuquerque or Santa Fe — even El Paso — to take care of their banking needs. That’s until — to much fanfare — First State Bank opened on July 1, 1947.
On its front page, the July 3, 1947, issue of the Socorro Chieftain said the rush of business kept the entire bank staff occupied throughout the day, which “proved very conclusively that Socorro welcomed this newest addition to its business life.”
The article said the bank’s lobby, “… was thronged from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.”
More than 100 accounts were opened on the first two days, the Chieftain stated, “indicating the institution will prove even more successful than predicted by the most ardent community sponsors.”
Bank records show that Vivian Musing was the first to open a savings account; and the first checking accounts were opened by Ben Zimmerly, Frank Chavez and Dan Barry.
Two loans totaling $1,060 were made the first day and by the end of the first month, that figure had grown to $20,143.23.
Seventy-five years later, the Chieftain’s prediction has been borne out beyond anyone’s dreams. A year later, on July 1, 1948, the first anniversary of First State Bank, Chieftain editor Thomas Ewing Dabney had a front-page headline reading “3 Socorro men, 18.8 feet tall weigh 600 pounds.”
The men were Rev. W.W. Arbuckle, pastor of the Presbyterian Church; Holm O. Bursum Jr.; and Dr. W. G. Camp, director of instruction at the School of Mines.
Dabney concluded, “Socorro contains many other big men, horizontally and vertically, but the two dimensions do not harmonize so conspicuously in them as in the cases mentioned.”
In a little over two years the bank’s assets reached the million-dollar mark. Shortly after that — in the early 1950s — it began offering scholarships to Socorro and Catron County students wishing to attend NM Tech.
Skip back to 1947. The chamber of commerce had been working on having a bank in Socorro for over a year, and plans came to fruition when Ray Tierney, a former bank examiner, came to town and joined up with two other partners.
The first officers of the bank were Tierney as president; Dr. H.T. Lehmann, vice president; Phillip J. Tierney as cashier, and Richard L. Tierney, assistant cashier.
“Michel Harriett and Holm Bursum II, along with Mrs. Tierney, made up the complete board of directors,” the Chieftain article stated.
By the late 1940s, Holm Bursum II was a leading rancher in Socorro County known for making wise and successful investments.
When Tierney was diagnosed with cancer and told he had only a few months to live, the bank’s board of directors was convened to decide, “Who in hell is going to run this outfit?” After much deliberation, Bursum’s fellow directors pointed the collective finger at him and replied, “You are!”
According to an interview years later, Holm II said he thought, “Well, hell, we might as well keep it now that we’ve got it.”
He confided that although he did know a little about banking, but that one thing was for sure, going from cattle and sheep to finance, “I never thought about being a banker, I can tell you that.”
As current bank president, Holm (Cuatro) Bursum IV, put it, “Mr. Tierney said to my grandfather, ‘OK, Holm, you’re going to be president or we’re closing it down.’” he said. “So, he had to hang up his chaps and spurs and come and run the bank.”
According to the book “The Bursums of New Mexico,” “Bursum was prepared in other ways. Struggling with crops and livestock through seasons of too little rain and too much wind and bolstered by his father’s example of soldiering on through political misfortunes had done that for him.
Unprepared by training for his new profession, Bursum fell back on something he did know: how to evaluate people.
Tierney is quoted in the Chieftain as saying, “The new management is too well known to the people of the county to need comment. They will conduct a useful bank and a sound bank. They merit the complete confidence and business of the community.”
Holm II was to serve as president for the next four decades. He retired in 1987. That was the year the board of directors chose Holm III to run the institution.
It’s said that banking was a far cry from his first love, ranching and cattle; having graduated from New Mexico State University with a BS in animal husbandry. It wasn’t until he left the Air Force that he entered the fiduciary world. His first job in the banking business was in 1959 at Albuquerque National Bank.
“I was planning on coming down (to Socorro) and working for my dad here at the bank,” Holm once said. “I guess I had mentioned it to my dad, and he said, ‘No, you get a job with somebody else and learn on somebody else’s money.’”
Holm III remained with the Albuquerque bank until April 1, 1966, when he chose to return to Socorro and go to work for his father at First State Bank.
He became president and CEO in December 1987 and remained so until his death in 2018 at 84 years old. His son, Cuatro, served alongside him as vice president and COO, and now heads up the bank.
He told Ron Hamm, in “The Bursums of New Mexico,” “When I came into the bank, I took all the good stuff I learned from corporate America and applied it to the banking industry and left the bad stuff behind.”
He says his dad was “a pretty good mentor. He (enjoyed) coming into the office bright and early and working all day long.”
In the 75 years since the bank’s opening, several other milestones include moving its location from the corner of Sixth and Manzanares to its present location on Manzanares Avenue.
The branch in Reserve opened in 1961 and in 2019 the branch in Magdalena opened. Online banking was introduced in 2003.
“Online and mobile banking, I think, are the touch points where you can have remote access to your money and move money around,” Cuatro said, referring to the bank keeping up with the latest technology. “We continue to push the technology. We think it makes the bank more efficient and provides better customer service. That’s really important where the customer’s involved.”
He recognizes that hitting the 75-year mark is impressive, and at the same time entertains the notion that the bank will be around for another 75 years.
“You know, in today’s world to see a company around this long is remarkable,” Cuatro said. “You just don’t see that anymore and it’s really impressive that the community has supported the business all these years. And that the business continues to support the community, and I think that’s what makes it work. Putting the customer first. If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be here.”