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From Bank of Owl Creek to Bank Star of the Leadbelt

One hundred years ago in the little town of Owl Creek, a bank opened with the rather obvious name of Bank of Owl Creek.

From its humble, small town beginnings, the business has endured name changes, moves, stock market crashes and the Great Depression to become one of St. Francois County’s major banks with five locations and more than $300 million in assets.

“We would still say we are definitely a ‘hometown’ bank,” said Chris Winter, marketing director for BancStar Inc., the holding company. “We have employees who have been here more than 20 years, and the bank is locally owned and managed.”

The bank is now called the Bank Star of the Leadbelt and this week it is officially celebrating its 100th anniversary. On Wednesday, past and present employees and customers joined lending companies, area businesses and members of the family that owns the bank in a formal ribbon cutting on the front steps of the bank’s headquarters in Park Hills.

Today, the bank will break ground on its latest project, a $2 million building in Festus that will house another branch office as well as the holding company. The 11,000-square-foot, two-story building will take nine to 12 months to complete and will include five drive-through lanes and a drive-through ATM.

BankStar Inc. is owned by the Joseph Stewart Sr. family and oversees three other banks as well as Bank Star of the Leadbelt. They are Bank Star, Bank Star of the Bootheel and Bank Star One.

The institution got its start in June 1905 in what is now Leadwood. In December of that year, the name changed to Bank of Leadwood. When most area banks closed during the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, this institution stayed open.

In 1981, the Stewart family bought the bank and seven years later, moved it to Park Hills and changed the name to Bank of the Leadbelt.

The bank opened its first branch in 1996 in Desloge and the next year opening its first two “in-store” branches in Wal-Mart Supercenters in Festus and Farmington. Two years ago, the bank’s loan production office opened in Festus.

The current name was adopted in 2000 to include the bank’s logo, the outline of Missouri inside a red star. The Stewart family still owns the institution, with Joe Stewart Jr. serving as CEO.

Bank Star of the Leadbelt President Rick Poston attributes the bank’s longevity to staff and service.

“We have customers who have baked here for many years. One woman has banked with us for 85 years,” Poston said. “People value the fact that they are important to us.”

All branches are participating in this week’s celebration with free food, giveaways and two daily drawings for $25 local merchant gift certificates. Visitors to any of the bank locations may enter their name for the grand prize gift basket worth $1,000.

As part of the celebration, during the month of June, the bank will give a Coins of America 50 States Quarter Gift Pack and a 2005 Commemorative Nickel Gift back to anyone applying for a loan or credit card, or opening new checking or savings account.

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