After more than 40 years in community banking, Joseph C. Stewart, Jr. has retired.
He started his career in financial services in a family business as a representative of credit card companies and later established his own credit bureau. He decided to get into banking with the purchase of the then $15 million Bank of Cahokia (Cahokia, Illinois) in 1976. He sold the bank in 1986 to Magna Bank. Later that year, he also sold his credit businesses to Computer Sciences Corporation of El Segundo, California, to concentrate on banking.
In 1981, he purchased the $8 million Bank of Leadwood. That was followed with the purchase of the $17 million Bank of Steele and in 1987 purchased the Pacific charter of Commerce Bank with $14 million in assets.
In 1988, Stewart chartered Ozarks National Bank in Lake Ozark, later converting it — and all of his other banks — to state banks. In 1989, he purchased the First National Bank of Callaway County in Fulton, which included a branch in New Bloomfield and merged the Lake Ozark and Fulton charters into one bank in 1992, under the Bank Star One brand. Also in 1988, he moved the Bank of Leadwood charter to his new branch in Park Hills.
In 1996, Bank of Leadwood built a branch in Desloge. In 1997, he established additional branches in Walmarts in Farmington and Festus.
In 2000, with banks now spread through the eastern half of Missouri, Stewart decided to re-brand his other three banks with the "Bank Star" name. As a result, he re-branded to the Bank Star of the LeadBelt (Leadwood, Park Hills, Farmington Walmart, Desloge, Festus Walmart), the Bank Star of the BootHeel (Steele, Caruthersville), and Bank Star (Pacific).
By then, his banks had reached a collective total of nearly $400 million in assets with annual net profits greater than $2 million.
In 2004, Stewart bought the Heartland Bank's branch in Pacific and merged it into the Pacific operation. Also in 2004, he purchased the Montgomery First National Bank branch in Caruthersville and merged it into the Bank Star of the BootHeel.
In 2005, he expanded the Lake Ozark network to include a branch inside the Hy-Vee Supermarket there. In 2006, he built a new branch in Festus, which also became the headquarters for the holding company, BancStar, Inc. That branch was part of Bank Star of the LeadBelt.
The recession in 2008 hit banks particularly hard and Bank Star participated in the U.S. Government's TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) to help strengthen its loan portfolio. Then in January 2013, he sold the Bank Star of the LeadBelt franchise with $108 million in assets to First State Community Bank, headquartered in Farmington and repaid all TARP money.
In December 2015, he sold Bank Star of the BootHeel, now with $92 million in assets to Bank of Missouri, headquartered in Perryville.
In February 2017, Bank Star One with $86 million in assets was sold to Central Bancompany out of Jefferson City, which split the two markets (Fulton and Lake Ozark) among its two charters covering those areas: Central Trust Bank (Jefferson City) and Central Bank of Lake of the Ozarks (Osage Beach).
That left just the one bank, Bank Star in Pacific ($70 million in assets), which he sold to his son Joseph C. Stewart III and a group of investors.
When asked what he plans to do in retirement, Stewart said he and his wife Kathleen plan to spend half of their time in Florida and the other half traveling and spending family time in Missouri, grandkids time, a little fishing and cheering on the Cardinals.
"I'll keep my fingers in some other businesses for a while and possibly a nonprofit organization. Although once banking gets in your blood, it never really goes away," he said. "I may seek out a role in the banking industry with an association or perhaps in Washington D.C."