downtown Forman, North Dakota

Who We Are

A legacy of growth, change - and service to the community

It was the end of the Wild West and the beginning of a new century.

In 1900, newcomers flocked to North Dakota. Railroads expanded to meet their needs. Boomtowns sprung out of the prairie grass almost overnight, businesses lining their streets. Almost every town had at least one bank.

Havana - in Sargent County - was no exception. The Havana State Bank opened its doors in April 1900.

Over the next century and more, the financial institution would have its ups and downs. It would survive robberies and the Great Depression. It would move into more modern buildings. It would absorb other banks, change names, and benefit from strong, steady leadership.

Here are some of the highlights of this journey:

Multi-tasking staff
When the bank reopened, it had a president, Gilman Klefstad; a vice president, W.W. Hastings; and a cashier, C. E. Castle. These three- and two other men - made up the bank's Board of Directors.

By January 1932, the new management team showed a profit. But in August 1932, Castle resigned, leaving Klefstad to act as both president and cashier. In October 1932, the directors hired Helen Kriesel as bookkeeper/teller. Kriessel and Klefstad were the only two bank employees for all of 1933.

Robbery target
On April 17, 1933, at 11:30 a.m., three men pulled up in front of the bank. Two men walked in, demanded all the cash, locked the two employees in the vault and fled Havana with almost $8,000.

Two months later, on June 20, the bank was robbed again, with the bandits getting $800. Klefstad, the president, recognized one of the men as having been involved in the first robbery. This time, the bandits took Kriesel, the teller, with them. She stood on the running board of their getaway vehicle as they sped off, and was released only when the men reached the outskirts of Havana.

New name, new headquarters
Despite the robberies and the ongoing Depression, Havana State Bank was thriving. In January 1937, it took over the Bank of Sargent County, located in Forman, the county seat. The new business changed its name to Sargent County Bank and set up shop in the old First National Bank building on Main Street. The original Havana branch closed shortly afterward.

Rapid growth
At the end of 1941, the Sargent County Bank had assets of over $350,000. By 1943, they had reached $1 million. During this time, the area's residents came to trust Sargent County Bank as a reliable and secure institution which constantly kept its customers' financial well-being in mind.

In 1958, construction started on a more spacious, modern building. A grand re-opening took place in the spring of 1959. A 1983 update brought more work space, a drive-up window and an expanded lobby. In the summer of 2020, the location was remodeled again to accommodate advances in technology.

Expansion to Gwinner
In 1947 E.G. Melroe opened a farm machinery manufacturing plant in Gwinner with a workforce of 12. But the Melroe Company grew rapidly, and Sargent County Bank's directors recognized the need for a banking location to accommodate the company's workers.

The bank purchased a lot on Main Street and built Sargent County Bank – Gwinner Station, which opened its doors in 1960. In 1987, to meet needs for computer equipment space, a larger work area and a drive-up lane, Sargent County Bank bought the corner lot where Brun’s Grocery Store once stood. A new, modern building with a dark brick facade now greets customers.

To Rutland and beyond
With population growing to the south and east of Forman, Sargent County Bank built a branch office in Rutland in 1976. Over 40 years later, in 2017, Sargent County Bank acquired First National Bank, with locations in Milnor and Lisbon.

The president says good-bye
In 1978, after 47 years as bank president, Gilman Klefstad - who had guided the bank through the Great Depression, survived two robberies and led expansion efforts - relinquished his title to his son, Harlan.

Gilman Klefstad continued to serve as Chairman of the Board until his death in 1993. The next year, Harlan Klefstad retired as president, naming his son-in-law, Steven McLaen, as his successor. Harlan Klefstad remained on as board chairman until his death in 2015.

Another new era
In 2020, Sargent County Bank merged with Stock Growers of Napoleon, North Dakota. Because the new entity had branches in multiple counties, directors retired the Sargent County Bank name and adopted Stock Growers Bank.

By then, the bank had moved into the digital era, allowing customers who lived almost anywhere to conveniently manage their money through ATMs, Online Banking tools and a mobile app.

A bank that once operated for an entire year with two people now had 30 employees in six locations. A bank that had $1 million in deposits during World War II now had $320,000,000 in assets.

As for the bank's mission? That hasn't changed. Just like in President Gilman Kiefstad's heyday, Stock Growers Bank is still known as a secure, reliable institution that constantly keeps its customers' financial well-being in mind.

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