Employee profile: Jo-Ellen Borth

 Jo-Ellen Borth

Thanks to her dad, who was doing a little work for Clair Wilcox at the time, Jo-Ellen Borth got a chance to work at Grand Rapids State Bank.  Today, 36 years later, she still enjoys the job thanks in large measure to “the wonderful people” she works with.

Jo-Ellen is a Greenie (resident of the Greenway School District just to the east of Grand Rapids).  After high school graduation, she moved to Duluth and took two years of vocational training to earn an associate’s degree in fashion merchandising.  While she was going to school she worked at J.C. Penney’s to help pay the bills.

“I was hired to work at the brand new J.C. Penney’s store in the Miller Hill Mall just north of Duluth,” said Jo-Ellen.  “It was a cool, fun job.  The store had just opened and they had every department you could think of: women’s clothing, electronics, toys, furniture.  I worked everywhere.”

After a couple of years, Jo-Ellen’s roommates moved on to other jobs and schools, and she couldn’t afford the rent on her own, so she moved back with her parents.  She spent a month traveling with her mother in England, visiting relatives and touring the countryside.  They returned to Grand Rapids, and that’s when her dad and Clair Wilcox got involved.

“I was interviewed and pretty much hired on the spot in May 1977,” explained Jo-Ellen. “However, Mr. Wilcox informed me that I couldn’t wear slacks to work.  I went home and cried, and one of my relatives from England was visiting at the time.  She still recalls how distraught I was, coming home after my first day on the job, because I didn’t own a dress.”

This problem was readily solved: Jo-Ellen stopped at J.C. Penney’s (where else?) in downtown Grand Rapids and bought two skirts so she could go back to work at the bank in style.

“I spent a week in bookkeeping so I could learn all about checks,” Jo-Ellen said. “Then I was assigned to the teller line, where I worked for several years.  There were several changes in the loan department in 1982, and I was given the opportunity to transfer into that group. 

“The work was different but I really liked it,” continued Jo-Ellen.  “Everything was done manually, and we would get to know the details of each loan inside and out.  We calculated the principal and interest payments by hand, recorded information on yellow cards, and had to balance each account daily manually. 

“Once we made the conversion to FIS (the bank’s core technology platform) in the early 1990s, my job changed,” added Jo-Ellen.  “But throughout this whole period, I had a coworker—Pat Pedersen—who worked side by side with me as a loan teller.  We were so close and thought so much alike we could finish each other’s sentences.”

The loan department was restructured in 2009, and the loan teller function was dispersed.  Jo-Ellen moved into the Operations Support department. 

“I’ve had to learn all new functions in addition to the loan work I did,” said Jo-Ellen.  “After 36 years, I’m still the expert on loans, just as Diana is the expert on internet banking and Teresa is the expert on deposits. But we’ve spent a lot of time learning each other’s functions, and while it hasn’t always been easy, it’s been interesting.”

Jo-Ellen adds that she is never bored, she never watches the clock and she is always busy.  In addition, she enjoys her coworkers. 

Away from the office, Jo-Ellen enjoys fishing, snowshoeing and traveling.  Her best friend and coworker, Carole, ended up marrying her brother, and Carole and she remain best friends. 

“My family members are my best friends,” said Jo-Ellen.  “I know that’s not true in many families, but it’s true in ours.  My dad passed away 18 months ago, and we focused our collective energies on helping him and his caregivers through that time.  Family is special.”

Jo-Ellen’s bank family is special to her, too. “Your family, friends and coworkers help make life special,” she added, “and that’s important.”


A Borth family snowshoeing outing, February 2013, in snowy Itasca County.  From left, Jo-Ellen, Carole, Dan (family friend) and Kevin. 

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