The next time you zoom by your bank’s drive-through teller, you can thank banking pioneer Edith LaGreca Jones for helping to pave the way locally for a service used daily today by many.
Originally, the drive-up concept really went to the dogs.
Jones, who turned a spry 100 on May 4, was a teller in the groundbreaking “curbside” service offered by Florida National Bank around 1955, when the bank was located in the landmark gothic-styled building at South Magnolia Avenue and Silver Springs Boulevard
According to family and an account by a fellow employee, it was the first drive-up banking offered in Marion County.
Jones reminisced Sunday at her northeast Ocala home with her sons Wade White, 73, and Ron White, 76, about banking in those days.
The drive-up service was new and was accomplished using a small stand about the size of a gas pump to handle transactions — which still stands on the sidewalk on South Magnolia — and a teller making the transactions underground in a room beneath the sidewalk.
The underground room was connected to the interior of the bank.
“We had (an arrangement like) a periscope and a telephone and we could see and speak to the customers. People would bring their dogs and we gave them treats. You could hear the dogs barking a block away,” Jones said.
Jones said parents would often bring children along to get candy.
Her son, Ron, said the traffic would block the road at times, with police having to direct the many cars.
Jeanette Edwards, One of Jones’ co-workers, started with Florida National Bank as a student in 1951 and remained until 1957 before leaving for about two years and coming back and staying until 1990.
“We loved Edith,” said Edwards, who called the early curbside service as, perhaps at first, a “novelty,” which soon became very popular.
“We had a friendly (guard) sitting on the sidewalk under an umbrella,” to assist customers, Edwards said, and Dudley Cole was president of the bank at the time.
Edwards also recalled the dogs barking as the cars made their way up to the curbside unit.
Because fewer cars had air conditioning and with open windows, this could have contributed to hearing the dogs on their way to get a treat.
Jones was born in Beaumont, Mississippi, and eventually moved to Memphis, where she met her first husband in an Army PX store during World War II.
Soon, family connections brought them to Ocala, where Jones worked first in the Piggly Wiggly grocery store, which was located on North Magnolia in the current site of the Brick City Bicycles.
Jones first went to work at Florida National Bank in 1951 or 1952 and moved with the bank to the “new” location — now a Wells Fargo Bank about two blocks west on Silver Springs Boulevard.
The move and the new building were covered on Oct. 21, 1962, by the Ocala Star-Banner.
Jones remained with the bank, which changed to Florida 1st National Bank after the move, until 1984.
During about half of her career, Jones served as the “face” of the bank in print ads, according to family members. Jones is featured in an ad circa the 1960s showing a woman pulling up to the drive-in window similar to today’s services.
The ad states: “The Modern Housewife Loves the Convenience of Drive In Banking” and “Bank from your car dressed as you are” (at) Florida 1st National Bank.
Wade White remembers his mother having to work long days, especially around the time when Social Security checks were received because “everything at the bank had to balance to the penny” and tellers could not leave until the work was done.
Ron and Wade White also remembered waiting in the bank lobby occasionally as their mom worked.
Ron White graduated from Ocala High School in 1959 and Wade White in 1961. Both are U.S. Marine Corps veterans. Ron White was in the optical field and Wade was a classroom teacher with Marion County Public Schools and continues now with First Assembly of God. He also is a missionary and operates the non-profit Vision for Christ, an international missionary outreach.
Jones has been widowed since the 1980s and enjoys working with upwards of 300 camellia and azalea plants that surround her home, which family members have said makes the home look like a state park.
Family and flowers, Jones said, are the key ingredients for a happy life.