Member Spotlight: 120 Years of Port Washington State Bank

James Schowalter and Annie Noster at Belgium Branch of Port Washington State Bank
James Schowalter and Annie Noster in the lobby of the Belgium Branch of Port Washington State Bank

This past month, Port Washington State Bank celebrated its 120th Anniversary. While this is a monumental feat for any business, even more impressive is the fact that it has also been family-run for five generations, and counting. It credits its success with not just being a family banking business, but a bank for the community.

PWSB was started with $25,000 in capitalization by Clarence Hill and George Henry in 1899. They had been bankers in Ripon and Manitowoc, and Port Washington didn’t yet have a bank, so they assumed the risk and Port Washington State Bank was born.

PWSB Belgium, Wisconsin Branch in 1979
PWSB Belgium Branch in 1979

The Belgium branch was PWSB’s first branch office, instituted 85 years ago in 1934 as one of Wisconsin’s first branch banks in a time when branch banking was a new concept. PWSB was not Belgium’s first bank, but was able to set up shop in the unoccupied Bank building on Main Street, currently utilized by the Iron Order Motorcycle Club.

The Belgium branch occupied that building until its current building at 545 Main Street was erected in 1962 by C. Donald Hill and Adolph Ansay. Ansay was involved with PWSB for more than 60 years.

“He was important to our success out here, along with a lot of our team members,” recollects James Schowalter, a 5th Generation banker (Hill’s great-great grandson), who currently serves as Senior VP, Chief Credit Officer and Director of the bank.

Also important to PWSB is its role in giving back to the community around it.

“We’ve served multiple generations of many, many families, but community support is what differentiates us,” explains Schowalter.

“We’re in the community. We raise our kids here and so do our employees… When you bank with PWSB, you get to see the profits poured back into your community. That is the lifeblood of small communities and Belgium has been very good to us,” says Schowalter.

PWSB Belgium and Cedar Grove, Wisconsin ad from 1980s
PWSB Ad from the 1980s

This year alone, PWSB donated $300,000 to 150 charities in Ozaukee County. In addition, as part of their anniversary celebration, they donated $25,000 to a bandshell replica at Port Washington’s Possibility Playground, $30,000 to the Matt Malkowski baseball field in Grafton, and $65,000 to build the PWSB Riverstage bandshell in Thiensville.

He continues, “We’ve grown by doing right by people, and that’s what will propel us into the future.”

PWSB continues to grow and expand. It opened its eighth branch this year, in Mequon. (All of its branches are located in Ozaukee County.) It’s the county’s largest mortgage originator and employs 130 people. Blessed with loyal employees, Schowalter notes that most of their turnover is due to retirements.

Annie Noster, Vice President and Branch Manager of the Belgium office, started as a Bookkeeper and Teller 43 years ago and appreciates her employer’s flexibility.

She says, “Because it’s a family-owned business, they understand family commitments.”

The family that started it all still has three generations involved in the business. James’ father, Steven, is the President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Directors. His grandfather, Ronald, is still Chairman of the holding company, at the age of 93. Both Ronald and Steven have been recipients of Wisconsin Banker’s Association Awards- Steven for 50 years of service and Ronald for 70 years. Steven received the Wisconsin Banker Association’s Banker of the Year award in 2015.

James’ Uncle Mark, newly retired in 2019 after 45 years of active involvement, is still currently Vice Chairman of Port Washington State Bank. His aunt Sally is a Senior Teller in Port Washington and Sally’s daughter Ashley is a teller in the Fredonia office.

“We’re writing the history today of what our children and children’s children will learn about… I think it’s neat that we’re continuing to create our history,” says James.

After 12 decades of family banking, what would Clarence Hill think of the family business today? James grins, “I think he’d be pretty proud.”

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