Banking equals playtime, career, way to serve community

By Wayne Bryan Published February 23, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Kathy Perkins seemed destined to be a banker, even as a child. In fact, she said she played banker when she was young. While Perkins has now been working in the banking industry for almost three decades, she added a new title to her name in January when she was sworn in as chairwoman of the board for the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce.

On Jan. 23, Judge Chris Williams of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court administered the oath of office to the 2014 board of directors of the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce, including the new chairwoman, Kathy McMahan Perkins, who is also vice president of lending and operations for Diamond Lakes Federal Credit Union.

Perkins has been active with the chamber for three years, representing the credit union, and said this is her second tour of active duty with the chamber.

“Being with the chamber has always been tied to my job, and I was an active volunteer with the chamber for around six years, some 15 years ago, when I was with another bank,” Perkins said.

She said being chairwoman for 2014 has already given her a different perspective of the chamber and its activities.

“We have already met as a board and talked about an overall strategic plan for the year,” Perkins said. “Before this year, I have always been involved in one event. I have worked on Brickfest, the banquet or the annual auction. I was one of the crowd. Now I am involved in everything, and I have a broader idea of what’s going on in the business community in Malvern and Hot Spring County.”

She said that as chair, she has come to see the importance of the mission of the chamber.

“[The chamber] is such an important part of the community. It is an advocate for business in the county,” Perkins said. “We, the community, need those businesses, and they need the chamber. Plus, I enjoy working with friends and leaders of the community that have a passion for where we live and a commitment to serve the people who live here.”

Perkins said she is especially proud to be working with the Hot Spring County Leadership Forum, developed by the chamber to encourage business people to become better informed and engaged in the community.

“The curriculum of the forum was developed by Dr. Stephen Schoonmaker at the College of the Ouachitas, and it is very much like a college course,” Perkins said. “It lets those in the program learn more about the resources and industry out in the community and how those things should be nurtured. We hope the people who go through the forum will take on leadership roles in the community, even seeking public office.”

This week, the leadership forum visited the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Ouachita River unit in Malvern, which includes several rehabilitation programs, such as Paws in Prison and substance-abuse education. Perkins said it is a part of the community she had never really examined during her years in banking.

Even as a child, Perkins seemed destined to be a banker.

“I used to play bank with my mother’s deposit slips — really I did,” Perkins said. “I had a toy phone, a little desk and a typewriter. I liked going to the bank with my mother; everyone was so nice and dressed up.”

A native of Friendship, Perkins did not get a job at a bank after she graduated from Ouachita High School in Donaldson but began working as a checker at the Piggly Wiggly in Arkadelphia. While not her dream career, she did meet her husband, Joe, at the store, where he worked cutting meat.

Yet her time in the grocery business did turn out to be her way into banking.

“Do you remember S&H Green Stamps?” Perkins said as she told her story. “All the tellers from the banks would come in to shop on double-stamp day, and I would talk to them as they checked out.

“One day, I got a call from one of the tellers who said I should come apply at her bank, and I became a teller at Elkhorn Bank in Arkadelphia. I took a pay cut to get [the job], but I loved it. I had 12 holidays a year.”

Perkins has been a banker for 29 years, and she said she didn’t want to have to name all the banks where she has worked.

“I [took] time off after the birth of both of my children,” she said. “After [those breaks], when it was time to get back to work, I went to another institution and usually within another department. I have worked in every department in the banking industry except accounting.”

This wide range of banking experience might have been why, at each new job, Perkins moved up to more responsibilities and duties. Then, she said, something happened that caused her to slip on that career ladder to the top.

“I was working in Hot Springs when my youngest son, Byron, had an illness when he was 3 years old,” Perkins said. “I took time off to be with him, then returned to work but found that I still needed to be close to home. I took a job in Malvern as a teller because it was the only job open, and I restarted my career.”

The switch to the job in Malvern, where she and her family already lived, gave Perkins the opportunity to be involved once again in the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce.

“This year we are going to be more membership focused,” she said. “We want to first go out and take the pulse of the membership and make sure they know the many things the chamber can do for them. We want to develop a better relationship with the business community and the chamber and let [business owners] understand the value of membership.

When not involved in the bank or the chamber, Perkins often turns to music for relaxation.

I have been playing the piano since I was 8 years old,” she said. “I have played at my church for years. I took up the mandolin for about four years, and I just started the fiddle.”

She said her father was her musical inspiration, and like him, she plays mostly by ear.

“I am part of a band that plays about the community, and for the fourth year in a row, we will be playing at Lake Catherine State Park during the summer,” Perkins said. “The band is called For Goodness Sakes. We are a bluegrass-gospel-country band.

“For me, it’s just a chance to enjoy the fun of music and meet so many wonderful people who share the love of music.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 and at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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