Sleds of gold: Wells Fargo’s gold rush history in Alaska

Wells Fargo Express - Gold shipment in Iditarod

A Wells Fargo gold shipment in Iditarod (Wells Fargo Messenger, May 1914).

Wells Fargo and Alaska are intertwined through history like lashings on dog sleds. Bought from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million, the Alaska territory was considered too vast, far away, and empty to be much good for anything. But history, including Wells Fargo’s own gold rush history in Alaska, proved the naysayers wrong.

In honor of that legacy and the centennial celebration of Anchorage, we sponsored the re-creation of a freight sled like those once used to haul gold.

Commemorative Iditarod freight sled

The commemorative freight sled at the ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod race.

Although Wells Fargo’s modern retail banking history in Alaska began in the 2000s, our presence in Alaska actually dates to 1883. That’s when its express business opened offices in Wrangell, Sitka, and Juneau to serve fish canneries and gold camps.

In 1911, Wells Fargo expanded by opening offices in 32 Alaska communities from Wrangell to Nome, bringing secure, reliable transport of mail and commodities as well as basic financial services.

The discovery of gold near Wrangell in 1861 created the first true Alaska gold rush. But it was the discovery of gold in Canada’s Klondike that brought tens of thousands of people north to try to cash in. Throngs of prospectors needed financial services, as well as mail, news, goods in and tons of gold out — and Wells Fargo was there.

Freight sled in the Alaska Heritage Museum

The old-style freighter sled in the Alaska Heritage Museum.

Two veteran dog mushers, Wells Fargo expressmen Bob Griffith and U.G. Norton, guided sled dog teams for 55 days to take the first winter gold shipment from the mining town of Iditarod in interior Alaska on Dec. 14, 1911. (Mushers often used more than one sled to haul out the heavy loads of gold.)

Over frozen lakes, rivers, tundra, and two mountain ranges, south to Seward they traveled, over a route now known as the Iditarod Trail but also historically known as the Seward-to-Nome Mail Trail.

In just a few years, airplanes replaced such long-distance sled runs. Today, most know “Iditarod” as the last great sled race on earth. (The Athabaskan word means “Far Away Place” or “Clear Water.”) The Iditarod race commemorates a 1925 run by sled dogs to deliver vaccine to Nome during a diphtheria outbreak.

In the modern race, mushers consider Iditarod a halfway point en route to the finish at Nome in odd years; in even years, the race bypasses Iditarod altogether.

While today’s mushers travel the Iditarod trail in lightweight sleds, old-time “freighters” were made of hardwoods and weighed more than 200 pounds before loading.

Wells Fargo Express office - Ruby, Alaska

Wells Fargo & Co. Express Office in Ruby, Alaska (Wells Fargo Messenger, April 1916).

As for the freight sled I mentioned earlier, Iditarod historian Rod Perry, his brother Allan, and their friend Cliff Sisson built an old-style freighter, one of the few produced in 70 years, just in time to lead the ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod race.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and visit with us in Anchorage at the Alaska Heritage Museum and see the sled in person. Or check our museum website for photos.

While Rod’s sled didn’t carry a ton of gold, it did set out with two Wells Fargo strong boxes aboard and 130 years of Wells Fargo history in Alaska.

About Tom

Bennett is museum manager for the Alaska Heritage Museum at Wells Fargo in Anchorage, Alaska. He oversees the museum’s collection of 6,000 historical objects and works of art as well as its 2,800-volume library.

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Mobile-first strategy makes deposits a snap for businesses

Are you old enough to remember a time when you had a faster computer and internet connection at your office than you did at home? I am! But nowadays, many of our business customers experience the opposite: They have better technology in their pockets and in their living rooms than in their offices.

Because of this trend, we’re thinking mobile-first — coming up with ways to harness the power of smartphones and tablets so businesses can spend less time managing their finances and more time serving their customers.

Wells Fargo's CEO Mobile service.

Wells Fargo’s CEO Mobile service.

I manage Wells Fargo’s business and commercial banking customer portal, Commercial Electronic Office®, or CEO® for short. In 2007, Wells Fargo was the first to launch a mobile-optimized banking service for commercial and corporate customers called CEO Mobile®, and that was the same year that the iPhone came out!

Since then, with the explosive growth of smartphones, our mobile banking platform has expanded and the number of users has grown rapidly. Case in point: We had more than $1 billion in checks and money orders deposited through the CEO Mobile Deposit service in 2013 alone.

You may say, “OK, I get how a consumer deposits a check using the Wells Fargo Mobile app on their phone, but how do businesses deposit hundreds of checks at a time? How can they do that by snapping photos of so many checks?” The fact is we have businesses of all sizes that find CEO Mobile Deposit to be valuable.

For example, we have clients with employees who travel, and as they receive a single check payment at a customer visit, they can snap a photo of it using our iPhone app before they even leave the customer’s location. We’re soon going to launch the service for Android phones.

In addition to shrinking employees’ to-do lists, we also lighten the load for our customers’ accounting department and speed up their cash flow.

We continue to invest in technology and mobile innovations. Clients aren’t as tethered to their office desks. When they wake up, they can check their smartphone or tablet to make sure their finances are in order. They can get out of the office on time to enjoy time with family and friends — and still stay in touch when they need to.

I am looking forward to the day when the “office” is a gathering space for people to collaborate — and much of the “desk work” will happen in the cloud — whether we are at home, on the road, or in a conference room. Giving our clients choice and control over how they want to work and socialize, while aiding in their success, makes the customer experience even better.

About Secil

Secil Tabli Watson is head of Wholesale Internet Solutions where she leads the internet and mobile teams for Wholesale Banking, responsible for supporting nearly 90 distinct business applications. Secil also guides the strategic direction of the company’s award-winning Commercial Electronic Office® (CEO®) customer portal. Her team is committed to providing best-in-class online and mobile channel experiences and delivering innovative solutions to provide convenient and secure banking access to satisfy customer needs and deepen relationships.

 


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People get it — saving for retirement is on them

For the first time in two years, retired investors are more bullish about the future than working investors. Stock market gains in 2013 drove a 12-point jump in our latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index. But the best story behind the numbers is proof that a growing number of investors know that success in saving for retirement is up to them. Among the signs:

Investors-Prize-Financial-KnowledgeInvestors want to sock away even more in retirement accounts

Nine out of 10 investors said they want to see an increase in the amount of money they can save in a tax-deferred retirement account. With all the talk coming out of Washington about lowering these limits, people are saying, “Don’t make it harder for me to save as much as I can for retirement.” We ought to listen.

Investors know that retirement success depends on savings

Eighty-one percent of the people we surveyed said that the percentage of income someone saves is the most important factor for a successful retirement — not market performance or asset allocation. And they’re right. Now we just have to convince the other 19 percent.

Investors value knowledge and believe they have it

This statistic shocked me because I often see research that suggests people want and need help figuring out what to do about retirement. Yet, 65 percent of those we surveyed not only considered themselves “very knowledgeable” about retirement planning, but also rated “personal knowledge” as the No. 1 way to become a successful investor. The message here: People prize knowledge and see themselves as owning the results. This is the right mindset because it’s absolutely true: People do own their financial futures and must engage actively to achieve financial health. 

Investors want to preserve their money

More than half (64 percent) of investors would rather put their money in a slow- or low-growth investment with guaranteed income instead of a higher-risk investment. Older Americans on the cusp of retirement or in retirement can’t afford large losses that would wipe out savings. People in their 20s and 30s and even 40s also are leery of losses but have to be careful not to miss the opportunity to get started and realize the best long-term savings opportunity to grow their income.

As a country, we need to do everything we can to become a nation of savers. What ideas would you recommend? At Wells Fargo, we’ll continue to offer tools like My Retirement Plan® to help people save and the encouragement to develop a retirement plan to reach their goals.

About Joe

Ready is the director of Institutional Retirement and Trust for Wells Fargo, based in Charlotte, N.C. He oversees employer-sponsored retirement plans as well as institutional trust and custody services provided by Wells Fargo, with a mission to help America’s diverse workforce prepare for a better retirement.

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Wells Fargo Ski Cup success: Kati Leasure and the power of ‘yes’

Editor’s note: Covering the 39th Wells Fargo Ski Cup, I met Jennifer Leasure and her daughter, Kati, 13, and invited Jennifer to share their story here on the Wells Fargo Blog.

My daughter Kati was diagnosed with ataxia telangiectasia at age 2. It’s an inherited condition affecting the brain, immune and other systems and is characterized by progressive loss of muscle control.

Having grown up skiing with my family, that diagnosis was quite a jolt, and I grieved for several days. But the programs of the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) supported by the Wells Fargo Ski Cup kept Kati moving and have helped her fight back against her disease. They’ve given her experiences that continue to amaze me. For about 10 years now, we’ve been skiing together every Friday! We ski with a group of children from the Jefferson County Schools led by Mary Carpenter, a retired physical therapist with the district who brings about 20 children each year. Mary helps them find scholarships for the NSCD programs and other support.


Learn more about the 2014 Wells Fargo Ski Cup on the Wells Fargo Stories website.


I first learned about the NSCD through a neighbor, who was one of its volunteer instructors. It’s very well known in the community so I knew about its competitive skiing programs but didn’t realize at the time about all its other therapeutic sports opportunities for children and adults.

Jennifer and Kati at the Wells Fargo Ski Cup.

Jennifer and Kati at the Wells Fargo Ski Cup.

These same neighbors took Kati to the slopes for the first time, where she learned to use a sit ski, and she began taking lessons with the NSCD.

The difference that we’ve seen in Kati is that she’s become a more well-rounded athlete. The NSCD has taken her disability and made it into an ability. She’s able to ski, kayak down a river, and rock climb. She also participates in most of the camps NSCD provides in 15 different therapeutic sports. Like most kids, she’s always wanted to keep up with her big sister Amy, 15, and these programs let her do that.

I tell everyone I know about the NSCD and remind people that it’s not about the skiing and other sports: It’s about getting people to a place where most don’t think they can get. The goal is to get them to try to do something different and achieve new goals. The teachers really push them to do something they didn’t think they could do.

About two years ago, Kati skied the halfpipe and that remains her favorite skiing experience. She still talks about it. Especially for children with a progressive disease like Kati, keeping them up and moving is so important.

As the parent of a disabled child, the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is letting go and learning to trust other people with her.

Even though you think hospitals are safe, and schools are safe, you still never fully trust people to take care of your kids and know all their needs. But when I come up here to Winter Park, I’m able to release that trust to them. The NSCD instructors are incredibly skilled in the medical, physical and behavioral aspects of those they work with and can adapt so many different activities for their students.

Lymphoma setback and recovery

Kati skis on the Jack Kendrick slope at Winter Park Resort with Jim Upchurch tethering.

Kati skis on the Jack Kendrick slope at Winter Park Resort with Jim Upchurch tethering.

On June 1, 2012, Kati’s love for sports and the outdoors were brought to a halt by lymphoma. Her 45-day hospital stay included surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy for her to become cancer free. On Oct. 29, her doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital Colorado brought a survivor cake to her room.

They said she was a fighter, and they’re right. She couldn’t wait to get back to school and share her cake with her classmates at Prospect Valley, who gave her a standing ovation when they announced she was tumor free.

It took months of physical and horse therapy for Kati to learn to walk again with assistance — work with her muscles and coordination that led to her latest sports milestone: being able to stand ski with adaptive equipment called a slider.

Thanks to instructors Tony Peters and Liz Vinson, she’s now able to stand ski on Jack Kendrick, her favorite run at Winter Park.

An inspiration to everyone

Kati inspires everyone she’s around, whether she’s doing something like selling bingo cards for a Wells Fargo Ski Cup event, kayaking down a river, or skiing. When you ask her what she likes most about skiing, she’ll tell you, “Going fast and having fun.” She’s fearless.

People always see how much fun she’s having in her smile. She empowers kids and adults alike who have embraced her and want to be around her.

It’s a magical experience that often goes beyond words. On the Wells Fargo Ski Cup weekend, I looked up one day and she had Elena, one of the NSCD staffers, up on the back of her wheelchair and they were taking off to a radio talk show. They were having so much fun.

As the parent of a special needs child, you hear “no” a lot. So many people are always telling you “no,” they can’t do this or that. At the NSCD, they never tell me “no” — they say “yes” and that makes all the difference in the world.

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Wells Fargo Stories website brings our vision and values to life

Most every day, I make it a priority to call or visit a Wells Fargo customer and a Wells Fargo team member — unannounced. And you know what I hear? Stories. Stories about how we help, in ways small and large.

That’s why I’m delighted we now have a new way to share these stories — and for you to share them with your friends and family members. It’s a website called Wells Fargo Stories.

The site will show you what I get to see all the time: team members making a difference and living our vision and values.

Here are some stories you can experience today:

  • What Wells Fargo team members in Los Angeles do to support a nonprofit that builds playgrounds for children with disabilities.
  • How an event supply and design company in Florida received the financing it needed to expand into a larger facility.
  • Why environmentally concerned team members worked together to “say goodbye” to polystyrene from our company cafés and cafeterias.

Stories like these come to life on the site, where you can read about or watch team members working with small businesses, helping people achieve the dream of homeownership, or volunteering with their local Habitat for Humanity chapter.

We are committed to living our vision and values. To serve customers and help them succeed financially. To make our communities stronger and more vibrant. To help each other and those around us.

Wells Fargo serves one in three U.S. households and 70 million customers. And after being in business for more than 160 years, we have a lot of stories to share!

Please visit the site at www.wellsfargo.com/stories, and let me know what you think in the comments below. Because we know that by working together, we will go far.

Thank you!

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4 ways to get financially fit

This year, I’m sure many of us made New Year’s resolutions that have to do with improving our physical health. But I believe it’s just as important to get financially fit, and the new Wells Fargo Financial Health study showed that’s top of mind for many Americans. The study also revealed:

  • One-third of those surveyed said they’re more concerned about their financial health than their physical health.
  • Two in five not only said money is the biggest stress in their lives, but that they’re more stressed about finances than a year ago.
  • When asked what they would do differently if they could go back five years, more adults cite regrets about saving and spending (49 percent) than shortcomings in other areas of their lives.

Infographic on the worries about financial healthThe bottom line: Americans said talking about money is even more challenging than talking about religion, politics and personal health.

I know talking about money, investments or even how much to put aside for a child’s education is tough because it is so personal. However, like physical health, we ignore it at our peril. So what to do? Here are four ways to get financially fit.

Have a conversation – I find it’s helpful to talk to friends and family about many topics, including personal finance issues. That’s why, as a woman, I enjoy learning from others through the Beyond Today® retirement blog for women, which offers financial perspectives for life. After all, many of us face the same financial concerns. It’s encouraging that we can learn from each other’s experiences. And our friends can be supporters and help nudge us along if we need it.

Get a check-up – Do your own personal assessment of your money, create a financial plan and check in regularly to monitor progress. Think about your near-term and long-term savings goals and how you will reach them.

Stick with your plan – Since you’ve now spent the time to put a plan in place, be serious about holding yourself to it. You’ll have a better sense of whether you’re on track to reach your financial goals. If you don’t have a budget or financial plan yet, set aside time in the next few weeks to take care of this project. It’s just as important as fitting in a workout at the gym!

Use the tools Financial health is an important focus at Wells Fargo. Whether it’s helping someone save for college, purchase a home or retire comfortably, we have several tools for all ages to help keep you in shape and confident. Some of my favorites include My Financial Guide and Hands on Banking®, a free financial education curriculum developed by teachers that features lessons and activities for all ages — from children to seniors.  My Retirement PlanSM provides a realistic savings goal tailored to you — and a realistic plan for pursuing that goal. Whether you use our resources or others, just find the ones you like best and use them.

Have you had a conversation about finances recently? Are you financially fit? While it takes discipline and time to get financially fit, make a commitment and get started now. You’ll be glad you did!

About Karen

Wimbish is the director of Retail Retirement for Wells Fargo, based in Charlotte, N.C. She oversees the company’s strategies to help retail customers plan for and live a comfortable retirement.

Taking the temperature of America's financial health infographic

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Construction industry optimism: New heights for 2014

I’ve been in finance for a long time, but I’ve particularly loved my past eight years with Wells Fargo Equipment Finance. We’re helping construction contractors, equipment dealers, and manufacturers make good financial decisions—the people who use, sell, and make the heavy equipment it takes to build bridges, roads, and other infrastructure projects that keep our country moving and growing. The industry is a huge driver of jobs and economic growth.

For 38 years, we’ve been surveying contractors, manufacturers and dealers of construction equipment and gauging their confidence about the year ahead in a key measure of construction industry optimism. The survey’s Optimism Quotient is very similar to the Consumer Confidence Index in measuring if their outlook for the coming year is better or worse than last year.

A few takeaways from the 2014 Construction Industry Forecast released Feb. 24:

  1. The construction industry is more optimistic about growth than it was last year. In fact, our Optimism Quotient is the highest it’s been since we developed the measurement 19 years ago.
  2. The industry’s No. 1 concern is economic uncertainty. Executives told us they’re feeling better about political and economic stability, but at the same time it’s what they’re most worried about.

Construction industry Optimism Quotient

We also ask what else is on their minds, such as concerns for the year ahead, regulation, and even environmental issues. Respondents indicated that this year they’re worried about the Affordable Care Act and legislation that affects how we pay for our roads and bridges, and how these might affect their business.

Last year we started surveying industry executives to better understand how they feel new emissions standards for diesel engines will affect the value of the equipment they buy. While we expected more uncertainty, the response was actually fairly ho-hum, which tells us the industry isn’t as concerned as we expected. But because the changes are still new, it’s also too early for people to have a definitive opinion. We’re going to continue to follow this and see how the industry reacts.

The survey also gauges buying patterns. An interesting finding again this year is the rising trend of renting construction equipment. More than 90 percent of respondents said they’ll rent equipment in 2014 compared with about 80 percent in 2013.

Another interesting buying trend? More than 20 percent told us that within the past year, they’d bought construction equipment online without seeing it in person. That’s a pretty big number and a change in the mindset for these big companies that rely on big equipment to get the job done. While online shopping has been a large part of consumer shopping, it’s only recently been a trend for construction equipment.

A new feature of our survey this year is that we enabled mobile survey responses so people could take it from a smartphone or tablet. I think this reflects how integral these mobile devices have become to the industry.

About John

Crum has worked in the construction equipment finance industry for the past 20 years, holding a variety of positions in sales and credit management. He joined Wells Fargo Equipment Finance, Inc. in May 2006 and currently serves as national sales manager of its Construction Group.

About Wells Fargo Equipment Finance

Wells Fargo Equipment Finance provides a wide range of capital equipment financing and leasing services for core U.S. industries such as construction, commercial vehicles, health care, and manufacturing. We’re the second-largest-bank-affiliated equipment leasing and finance business in the U.S. by asset portfolio and annual origination.

Video

Watch a video of the highlights of the survey.

What do you think?

Are you in the construction industry? How are you feeling about the year ahead? Share your comments below.

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Civil rights murals are ‘keeping the dream alive’

Dwania Kyles

Dwania Kyles

Editor’s note: An image in one of Wells Fargo’s new outdoor civil rights murals shows Dwania Kyles and some of the other first-graders who became known as the “Memphis 13” as they integrated the Memphis City Schools in 1961. Kyles and Memphis 13 classmate Menelik Fombi were on hand for the Feb. 18, 2014, unveiling of the community mural program artwork in Memphis at Wells Fargo’s bank on Union Avenue and Claybrook Street. She penned this post as part of the dedication.

What I remember most about that first day of school at Bruce Elementary was how exciting it was and how happy I was to be going to school for the first time. The energy was so high and everybody was buzzing around making sure everything was just perfect.

I loved my new school clothes, shoes, and book satchel, and there were warm smiles, loving strokes, and soft whispers of comfort that everything was going to be alright. All that attention was great!

Wells Fargo civil rights mural in Memphis

First in a series, the outdoor civil rights mural in Memphis was unveiled Feb. 18. The others are in Birmingham, Ala., and Montgomery, Ala.

Everything was just perfect. Both of my parents were coming with me to school, and we met my good friend Michael (our parents were friends) and Harry and their moms. Other folks were there (who I found out much later were plain-clothes policemen) to make sure we got there safely.

It was a beautiful day with so many people coming out to see us. I was thinking “WOW”—until my father and I walked up the stairs to the school. I noticed a shift in all of the good feelings. Things got more serious. I didn’t see other children, only adults. Even though I couldn’t hear what the policemen said, the tone of their voices wasn’t pleasant. But, I thought, “I am with my daddy so everything is OK.”

However, the closer we got to the entrance the more nervous I became about my parents leaving me somewhere I’d never been before. When we walked through the door, I remember how big and beautiful I thought the school was, which put me at ease a little.

Then I walked into the classroom and didn’t see any other children who looked like me, and when I turned around Michael and Harry were nowhere to be found. I was confused, scared, worried, and not very happy anymore.

I was the only member of the Memphis 13 to graduate from a predominantly white high school. This experience not only deepened my commitment to the pursuit of equality for all people, but specifically the underserved. I’m glad Wells Fargo shares that tradition of inclusiveness.

Kyles with her civil rights mural image at the Memphis unveiling.

Kyles with her civil rights mural image at the Memphis unveiling.

The experience provided me with the tools to stare adversity in the face and not cower in fear. It gave me a sense of how strong I was and how important it is to not just talk about change but to be the catalyst for it.

I was absolutely empowered by the experience and have always shared that gift with others.

I’ve always felt my parents were ahead of their time. When other folk were trying to get out of the South, Billy and Gwen Kyles packed up their three children in Chicago and headed there to be part of the fight for civil rights. It’s one thing to go solo or as a couple, but to take three small children ranging in ages 2–4—well, that took moxie, and they had a surplus of it.

I often tell my daughter how sorry I am that she didn’t get the opportunity to live through the ’60s, for it truly was one of the most significant times in our history. The closest she’s come to experiencing something close to that was the election and re-election of President Obama.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the peaceful integration of the Memphis City Schools had an effect on everyone in the city. It also laid the foundation for the integration of other segments of our society.

Closeup of Dwania Kyles image in Memphis civil rights mural

Kyles (right) on her first day of school at Bruce Elementary School in Memphis.

It’s so important for these stories to be remembered and, more important, told by the people who were actually involved so they can empower others and pass the baton. Together, we can continue building a world based on love, integrity, and respect.

Seeing the mural photo of us again, I love how determined and confident the three of us look with our game faces on. I also love knowing that our mothers were right behind us—absolutely beautiful and with their game faces on, as well. They exuded a strength that defined the times.

Memories are particularly strong this year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. My dad, the Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, was on the balcony when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Dr. King had planned to have dinner with our family that evening.

Since that fateful day, my dad has said often to his congregation at Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis and to scores of other audiences: “You can kill the dreamer but you cannot kill the dream. The dream is still alive.”

More about Dwania

Dwania now lives in New York where she’s a certified wellness consultant, health educator, and food advocate. She is featured in the 2011 documentary, “The Memphis 13.” Rev. Kyles is featured in the 2009 documentary, “The Witness,” which includes his account of King’s murder and the lessons from his life and legacy. 

Memphis civil rights mural

The mural on the Union Avenue and Claybrook Street bank branch in Memphis is among the first three outdoor civil rights-themed murals installed in Wells Fargo’s community mural program.

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Saluting winter storm heroes: Birmingham area teachers

Every day, Birmingham, Ala., area school teachers bring passion, joy and creativity to our schools, often overcoming immense challenges and pressures along the way to help students learn, grow, and succeed.

For more than 24 hours recently, they became something else to hundreds of children, including my own son: replacement parents for the stranded. The perfect combination of weather conditions flash-froze streets and highways, jack-knifing tractor trailers, wrecking countless vehicles, and grinding traffic to a halt.

Schools became storm shelters, and teachers, along with school administrators, rose to another challenge by keeping children safe, warm, fed and engaged in a host of ways throughout the night and into the next day with movies, games, lessons, and other activities.

Paula Beck of Wells Fargo's Community Affairs team delivers a gift basket to teachers at Gresham Elementary.

Paula Beck (center) of Wells Fargo’s Community Affairs team delivers a gift basket to teachers Tishonda Sandifer (left) and Pam Halbrooks at Gresham Elementary.

Knowing that being separated from one’s child is a parent’s worst nightmare, teachers kept the communication lines open, even as many were separated from their own children. Every time I heard my son’s upbeat voice on the phone in my sleeping quarters for the night (Wells Fargo Tower in downtown Birmingham), I felt less and less anxious.

I knew he was in good hands.

Thanks to a teammate’s four-wheel-drive and his Midwest-honed snow driving skills, I finally reached my son mid-morning on Jan. 29 and we celebrated our family reunion.

It’s been said that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it, and did we ever see that here.

From the neurosurgeon who walked six miles in the snow to a hospital to perform life-saving brain surgery, to a local Chick-fil-A restaurant feeding chicken sandwiches to drivers stuck in their cars for free, to churches that took in the stranded, and to first responders doing what they always do in the worst of conditions, Birmingham’s heart and character were on full display.

Thank you to everyone who showed our community and nation what neighbor helping neighbor looks like. And thank you, especially, to our teachers and schools.

Sometime today (Friday, Feb. 7), the Wells Fargo gift caravan is coming to the last of your schools. Along with a $50,000 grant to the Birmingham area’s 13 school districts to support teachers and academic classroom projects previously announced, we’ve been delivering teacher appreciation gift baskets with snacks and offices supplies to every school since Wednesday. It’s part of our commitment to K-12 education, which is a focus area for where we give through volunteering and financial support.

We hope these gift baskets remind you again just how thankful we are that our children were in your care when the storm hit, and how much we appreciate the vital role you play every day in our children’s education and futures.

Please join me in congratulating these special storm heroes by using the “Leave a comment” feature below to share your own story about how these special people came through for you and your children in what could have been the worst of times.

Comment, share and send along to a friend to do the same. We can’t say “thank you” enough!

About Leigh

Collier is Mid-South region president for Wells Fargo, based in Birmingham. She oversees the company’s bank stores in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

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2014: A good year for small business optimism

2014 is off to a remarkably positive start among small businesses.

According to the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index measure of small business optimism, small business owners are the most optimistic they’ve been in five years as the economy improves. In a survey of small businesses conducted Jan. 6-10, the overall Small Business Index score increased to a positive 45 in January, up from a positive 24 in October. That’s a jump of 21 points, and the index score is the highest it has been since the third quarter of 2008, though still well below pre-recession levels.

An optimistic look ahead infographicSeveral factors contributed to this quarter’s increase in optimism among small business owners, including higher scores for their current situations and future expectations about cash flow, less difficulty obtaining credit, and expected increases in revenue and hiring.

There’s a lot for business owners to be hopeful about. We’re coming off a record year in the stock market as the S&P 500 Index rose by its highest percentage since 1997. Congress avoided a government shutdown by approving a federal budget deal. We also have seen instances of growth in capital spending, another encouraging sign.

We know small business owners are, by nature, an optimistic bunch, and this latest survey underscores just how sanguine they can be about their prospects. Maybe it’s a survival technique to keep employees, customers, and partners pushing forward to reach the next milestone of success.

In my days as a small business owner, this bullish attitude was pervasive as we teetered one big client away from disaster or success. It defined our business in a way that was scary and exhilarating at the same time.

One customer who typifies this resilience and spirit is RPA Design PC, an architectural firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, that specializes in health care. The firm was hit hard by the impact of the downturn and the national health care debate. As a response, the principals first infused more of their own capital to hold onto their staff of designers and planners. Second, they recommitted themselves to their national strategic partnerships, which expanded opportunities throughout the U.S. As a result of these changes, the firm is poised for its best year yet in 2014.

I’m constantly inspired by the achievements of our small business customers and their passion for what they do. Small business owners still have their share of challenges as the economy recovers, but any sign of increased optimism among small business owners is good news for our country and our communities.

Small business index score

About Doug

Doug Case leads Wells Fargo’s focus on small businesses, which include the Wells Fargo Business Insight Resource Center on wellsfargo.com and its research, tools, and other resources for existing and prospective business owners. Wells Fargo is the nation’s leading lender to small businesses in dollars and the leading lender of Small Business Administration 7(a) loans in dollars for five consecutive years, according to government data. Since August 2003, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index has surveyed small business owners on current and future perceptions about the financial condition of their businesses.

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