By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY – Shae Mills remembers short trips in the 1970s with his colleagues at First Union National Bank to Purcell’s Drug Store in downtown Salisbury for limeades and cherry orangeades.
Their choice of “fat spoon” was Bill’s Pastry near OO Rufty’s general store. Denny’s was just down the street as was a Winn-Dixie grocery store. The county administration building on West Innes Street was a post office.
Today the steeple – formerly a part of the first Presbyterian church – is the last landmark in the block from an era when banks were community centers because everyone had to pay a visit. This was long before ATMs, credit cards and direct deposits from smartphones.
“It’s just hard to imagine not seeing the bank building,” Mills said. “But I think they did a great job.”
Mills joined his former colleagues Toni Megliorino, Kay Roberts Linker and Pat Goodnight at Bell Tower Green Park on Tuesday to reminisce about their time at where the park is currently located. In 2017, the The 6,200 square foot bank building built in 1973 has been demolished.
The four women worked together at First Union Bank for some time. Despite moves across the country and career changes, the four have kept in touch along the way.
Megliorino, known at the time as Toni Hege, was the senior cashier when First Union Bank in the early 1970s decided to move its location from South Main Street to the park’s current site. She joined First Union right out of high school in 1968 and started upstairs in accounting at a time when everything was handled manually.
She will eventually lead the bank’s efforts to help skeptical merchants use Mastercard credit cards.
“I remember the start of direct deposit for Social Security checks,” Megliorino said. “But a lot of older people didn’t believe it. They still wanted to get that paper check. They always wanted to come in line to do their banking business. By the third of the month, you would have lines of people.
Customers were the main reason the four valued banking services. While at the South Main Street site, Megliorino remembers a regular customer who became a favorite: former actor Sidney Blackmer, best known for the 1968 film “Rosemary’s Baby” and others. Blackmer often took his corgi and his son, Jonathan, when visiting the bank.
“He was so nice and polite,” Megliorino said. “And most of the time, I was the only one he let him wait so he had to stand in my line.”
Megliorino left First Union a decade later before moving to Texas, where she would eventually make a career change in law enforcement. Megliorino said she was previously robbed at gunpoint while working at a bank in Texas.
“At that point, I decided I was so scared to have this gun in my face, someone standing there demanding the money,” Megliorino said. “I made the promise ‘I’m not going to be scared like this anymore.’ “
She returned to Salisbury in 1984 and joined the Salisbury Police Department for a few years before completing an almost two-decade tenure in the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.
Linker, who was known as Kay Roberts at the time, also began her career in banking before moving to law enforcement. Linker started at First Union in 1975 working with consumer loans. Before leaving in 1981, she held the position of Customer Service Representative and Head Cashier.
“It’s like I still see this bank as a shining example of beautiful architecture,” Linker said. “I still miss it today. This building was magnificent.
Her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law, all of whom worked in law enforcement, inspired her to join the Kannapolis Police Department as a detective. She has worked on major crimes such as homicide, child sex abuse, white collar crime and, ironically, bank robberies.
“I think it’s funny to have worked in a bank and to have all this practical knowledge, then I went to the police force and I worked in bank robberies”, a said Linker. “I would eliminate these bank robberies and I could tell you stories that would make your hair stand on end.” “
Mills, who now lives in Monroe, remembers moving from Pennsylvania to Salisbury while working in the dental industry. She made a career change to start banking with First Union when her apartment building was located at 117 South Main St., where the office of local lawyer Mary Beth Smith is now located. Megliorino trained Mills before Mills worked a few times in other banking organizations in China Grove and Charlotte. She worked across all departments and remembers the challenge of encouraging customers to use the newly installed ATM, which required thousands of transactions before it became profitable.
“When they set up the first ATM, I showed up with a working dummy card and trained people to show them how to use the ATM,” Mills said.
Likewise, not everyone was a fan of the drive-thru option for banking services, Mills said.
“Even people our age still won’t be using a PC or cell phone,” she added. “They always go to the bank.
Goodnight is one of those people who “just wanna be there” in person. Goodnight began his banking career at Scottish Bank, which predated First Union Bank at its South Main Street location. She worked for First Union on and off for a decade before spending two at the local VA hospital. Jeanie Eller, the first woman to serve as the bank’s vice president, was his coach.
Another former guest colleague on Tuesday with George Kluttz was Phyllis Freeze, who worked alongside Eller at the bank for more than 20 years. Megliorino said neither could show up for Tuesday’s meeting.
Megliorino said she helped design the checkout area for the bank’s new building. When the building was demolished in 2017 to make way for the Bell Tower Green Park, it got pieces of the blue slate slab that lined the floor of the covered entrance.
“I have it in my front garden, so now I think of First Union every day when I go out,” Megliorino said.
Mills was the only one who had yet to see the park on Tuesday. All say they are delighted to see him at concerts and events in the summer.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.