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It's a wonderful life for First Federal Savings & Loan

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MIKE RUBEN / The State Journal. First Federal, which dates to 1935, relocated to a new office in 2012. MIKE RUBEN / The State Journal. First Federal, which dates to 1935, relocated to a new office in 2012.
Photo courtesy of First Federal. The original directors posed for a group photo in front of the savings and loan. Photo courtesy of First Federal. The original directors posed for a group photo in front of the savings and loan.
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RAVENSWOOD, WV -

Pictures tell the story of First Federal Savings & Loan Association of Ravenswood.

Historic photographs of the community adorn the office walls. They depict the good times, such as a band marching along the yet-unpaved main street during a 1940s-era parade. Others illustrate difficult times, such as an Ohio River flood of the early 1900s. 

And there's a photo of the financial institution's original board of directors lined in front of the downtown Ravenswood office. A local physician and eight businessmen pooled their resources on Nov. 30, 1934 with a total capital stock of $1,000. The country was feeling the effects of the Depression, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (they were issued FDIC certificate #947) was a relatively new entity.

Lois Beam, First Federal's current managing officer, sees a correlation with the fictitious Bailey Building & Loan Association of Bedford Falls, N.Y., made famous by a 1946 Hollywood movie classic. 

"If you've ever seen ‘It's a Wonderful Life,' that's us," she said with a laugh in her voice.

George Bailey (as portrayed by James Stewart) might have been envious of First Federal's current financial picture. Beam noted total deposits of $14.2 million and a loan portfolio of more than $11 million.  The 2013 loan total of $2.5 million represents the association's most productive year.

The savings and loan takes pride in being entrenched in the Jackson County community.

"We take local money and loan it back out to local people," said Beam, who grew up in Ravenswood. "We do have some accounts with people who lived in the area at one time and re-located. By policy, we don't accept out-of-state funds. 

"Most of the accounts in our loan portfolio are secured by properties in Jackson County."

Beam attributes the stability to the rate structure bolstered by a new location acquired in 2012.

"We've tried to keep our rates very reasonable on mortgage loans, passbook savings and certificates of deposit," she said. 

The business made the move more than a year ago into a newer building allowing several amenities.

"We loved the old location," she said. "It was a charming, historic building. We're much more visible here and we have a lot more room for staff. 

"We were able to add a drive-through window, and there's more parking."

The new location, a remodeled insurance office, allowed First Federal to expand its real estate interests. The building has an 800-square-foot, three-room office available for lease. A subsidiary, Great Bend Financial Group Inc., also owns two buildings in town with six apartments.

Being among the smallest financial institutions in West Virginia has its limitations. 

Checking accounts and auto loans are not offered. With a staff of three full-time and one part-time employee, Internet banking is not an option.

"We don't feel that it would be beneficial to us at this time," Beam said. "We'll eventually get to the place where we may have to expand."