NORTH MANKATO — There it was, somewhat inauspicious, a trailer house tucked between the original Nakato bar and a small vacant lot. It was the first incarnation of Valley National Bank, North Mankato’s first bank in the three decades following the Great Depression. With just four employees, about all that could fit inside the 440-square-foot space, the little bank that WOULD, opened for business in August of 1963.
When JFK was still president for a few more months, and before the Great Flood of ‘65, before Fun Days, before Taylor Corp, in a time when North Mankato’s hilltop was still dominated by cornfields. Jerry Michaletz had just moved to town, to earn a living selling insurance. He would live in one of the first residential homes on that hilltop, but he would also loan a lot of passion to that little bank down in the valley.
Michaletz first got involved in banking, you could say, at the ground level: as a teenager, he got a job scrubbing floors at the bank in Green Isle where his father worked. By the time he arrived in Mankato in 1960, the 31-year-old Michaletz and his wife, Faye, had four children and just $400 to their name. He started selling group health and life insurance: “The only way I survived was working seven days a week. I knocked on every door in town.”
That, and attending service club meetings and church groups helped him meet a lot of locals.
Among them was prominent businessman, Dan Coughlan. Jerry and Dan hit it off, and in their discussions, it came up that North Mankato had no bank of its own — the last one had closed in 1932, during the “bank holiday” declared by the federal government in the Depression. Jerry jokes today, maybe no other bank had opened since, because no one could get across the Main Street Bridge to get a loan or make a deposit: the old at-grade-level bridge was notorious for long vehicle backups as drivers waited for freight trains to move through.