Make way for Slurpees

Demolition of the former two-story Bank of America branch in Inverness continues the morning of Aug. 19. A new 7-Eleven convenience store and car wash are planned to replace the former bank at 1007 U.S. 41 North near the intersection of State Road 44 and U.S. 41.

Since the 1970s, the two-story bank building on the corner of Main Street and Davidson Avenue in Inverness has been a place where careers were launched and at least one marriage began.

This week, as bulldozers knocked it down to make way for a 7-Eleven, longtimers shared their stories and memories of what once was Citizens 1st National Bank, built sometime between 1968-70. A second story was added to the building later.

Ed Gerrits has had a hand in starting about a dozen banks between here and Miami, with three in the area — Citizens 1st National in Inverness and one in Crystal River, and Lake County Bank in Lake County — all of them family-owned community banks.

He also had a habit of “stealing” bank employees’ lunches from the refrigerator in the lunchroom, said Rocky Hensley, who started his banking career at Citizens 43 years ago.

“Everybody brought their lunches and put them in the refrigerator," Hensley said. "At lunchtime Ed would go in the refrigerator and find a lunch he liked, put some money inside the lunch bag and a note saying, ‘I like what you got; here’s some money to buy yourself something to eat.’”

Eventually, Gerrits hired a cook who served lunch five days a week to all the employees. 

“That was a very effective employment tool — very effective,” he said.

As for the building being torn down, he said it was not something he’s happy about, but he has happy memories of his time there.

“It was like home to me,” he said. “I was there from 7 in the morning until 7 at night.”

From the early ‘70s to last year, the building has housed a number of banks, including Barnett Bank and, lastly, Bank of America. 

Here’s what some longtime Inverness people had to say:

“I remember working at First Federal across the street and walking over for lunch — they had their own kitchen and a cook. I think Mr. Gerrits made me pay a dollar, but it was worth it! Best fried chicken and greens and all kinds of other Southern food. It was so good, I went to work for them.” — Patrick Fitzpatrick

“I used to walk up there every day from the shop (Welch’s Appliances) to make our company deposit. There was a little back-door entrance, and back in the day I’d walk in through there and visit with all the girls before making my deposit ... my Dad was on the (bank) board. It’s a landmark for sure — lots of memories. When I saw the demolition going on, I had flashbacks of our shop being pulled down. Change is inevitable, though.” — Lori Welch Rieser

“My first job in Citrus County was there, in safe deposit and new accounts in 1977/78. Rocky worked in collections on the second floor. Ed Gerrits did everything in his power to get us to date each other, and he was very successful — we’ve been married 41 years. However, they wouldn’t let us both work there and be married. Thus started my government career.” — Melanie Hensley

“I was there opening day for free donuts and orange juice and a penny in a bottle as a gift — on my bicycle — much fun.” — Brad Welch

“Ate my first rattlesnake meat in that kitchen at lunch.” — Patricia DeBusk McClain

“My dad, Ed Tolle, was president of Citizens 1st National Bank in the ‘70s. I was in high school and my big job (at the bank) was filing checks in this BIG motorized filing system, and then we checked signatures of every check against the signature cards. Can’t forget the amazing lunches in the kitchen! Plus, I led Jazzercise classes for some of us employees after work. Those were good ol’ days.” — Laura Lou Tolle Fitzpatrick

“So many memories of a building. My memories are from when we moved from the small Barnett Bank in the Regional Shopping Center to the huge building on the hill during the Barnett Bank/First Florida merger. Loved the challenges of managing a huge building with a drive-through across the street. I always heard stories of how a chef would come and cook lunch in the upstairs kitchen for employees ... if only those walls could talk!” — Connie Lobel

“That’s where I had my first bank account back in 1970 when I first moved to Inverness when I was 12. I saved my lawn-mowing money for my first electric guitar, bike and my first car, a 1970 Dodge Coronet. Seeing the bank being demolished is one of those nostalgic things where a part of history is going away. Things you’re familiar with are no longer there.” — Vince Curry

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Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.

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