From Tough Love to True Reward: The Armstrong Bank Story

by: Megan Jones, Armstrong Bank

Mrs. Lola Armstrong survived the heartache of the Great Depression and experienced the difficulties of keeping Vian State Bank open when the rest of the banks in Sequoyah County closed.  When her youngest son, Sinclair Armstrong, was about 12 years old, Lola Armstrong gave him some tough love. She told him that he would never work in the family bank.  Sinclair respected his mother’s wishes at that time, so instead he went down the very different career path of becoming a physician.

Dr. Sinclair Armstrong with his mother and father –Lola Armstrong and Sinclair W. Armstrong, Sr.

After spending 14 years training as a physician in Oklahoma City, New York, and London, Dr. Armstrong came back to the River Valley to practice Urology.  He and his wife, Lugene, made their home in Fort Smith and proudly raised two daughters here. Dr. Armstrong had a contract with a local medical clinic upon returning to the River Valley as a physician, and yet not a single bank in town would loan him the money to buy even a washer and dryer for his home.

The experience of needing to purchase a basic necessity for his family and not being able to do so truly opened his eyes to an unacceptable challenge in the banking world. It also inspired him to do something about it.

Shortly after he started his medical practice in the Fort Smith area, Dr. Armstrong took a leap of faith into the family business of banking, despite his mother’s wishes years earlier. He joined his father, Sinclair W. Armstrong, Sr., and several other family members on the Vian State Bank Board of Directors.  Around that time, Dr. Armstrong started buying shares of bank stock owned by non-family members. In 1988, he made a bold move by purchasing a failed bank in Norman, Oklahoma—a town that, at the time, was full of unsuccessful banks due to the oil bust a few years earlier.

An appeal from Vian State Bank led to a change in Oklahoma banking laws, which allowed for better growth and expansion opportunities. Vian State Bank saw major success and quickly spread to multiple locations in eastern Oklahoma, making it a necessary and opportune time to change the name to Armstrong Bank.

Armstrong Bank and Republic Bank and Trust, the bank acquired in Norman, soon joined together under the same holding company.  Fast forward a few decades, and the most recent significant development for Armstrong Bank has been the expansion into Arkansas by purchasing a Fort Smith based bank. The Armstrong family is incredibly proud to have a strong presence in the warm-hearted community of Fort Smith, where Dr. Armstrong was born and later raised his family and built his medical practice.

Armstrong Bank has been fortunate to have exceptional senior management and dedicated employees who have shared and influenced Dr. Armstrong’s vision for the bank. Dr. Armstrong feels confident the bank would not be where it is today without the amazing people that have joined together for the purpose of serving and helping their friends and neighbors with all their financial needs, no matter how big or small.

After 30 years of service in Fort Smith, the vision and growth of the bank led Dr. Armstrong to leave his Urology practice and become more involved in bank administration.  According to Dr. Armstrong, the rewards in banking are often similar to the rewards in medicine.

One of the most meaningful things for Dr. Armstrong to hear from a Fort Smith neighbor is that his dad or his brother loaned that community member money when they had nothing—that the Armstrong family made the loan based on character. The reward in banking is in knowing you can have a significant, positive impact on a person’s life. That reward has inspired Dr. Armstrong every day over the last several decades.

When Dr. Armstrong’s grandfather started the bank in the early 1900s they could not have imagined the Armstrong Bank of today. The bank’s holding company, Ironhorse Financial Group, is comprised of two banks with assets totaling nearly $1.5 billion.

Lugene Armstrong, Sloan Armstrong, Aston Armstrong and Dr. Sinclair Armstrong

Dr. Armstrong and his sister, Ann Farmer, who also sits on the bank’s Board of Directors, are quick to thank their grandfather for the gift he gave them. Dr. Armstrong’s goal has always been to provide customers with the same level of quality service, dedication, and commitment that his patients received for more than three decades.  Armstrong Bank considers it an honor to serve the wonderful communities, like Fort Smith, where they live, work, and play.