“Be united, not divided,” advised Mona Odom. “Let’s not allow ourselves to follow the hatred we see on the news; let’s just love one another as Jesus loves all of us. Life is too short not to get along!”
Mona Odom truly loves her community and everyone in it. She is involved with various organizations in the county, but many people would recognize her from all the years she worked at a local bank. Although she is known to have worked at First State Bank in Quitman, Mona actually got her start in banking somewhere else.
“I began my banking career in 1985 as a teller at Citizens National Bank in Meridian. Management quickly saw my eagerness to learn more, so I was trained over the next few years to process loan paperwork, process certificates of deposit, manage safety deposit boxes, and eventually became a loan secretary,” recalled Mona. “After working for one of the senior managers for a while, I was promoted to loan officer and credit manager, which just meant I was responsible for overseeing all of the loan files and get them ready for bank examiners. That was stressful sometimes because if the bank examiners weren’t happy, we could get a bad grade. It was very rewarding, and I worked under a wonderful boss who taught me so much!”
Although she loved her job and work family in Meridian, there was something more important to Mona that prompted her to relocate to a new job in Quitman: her family.
“In 1995, my daughter was starting kindergarten in Quitman, and my son was in preschool in Quitman also. I wanted badly to be closer to them so that I wouldn’t miss all of their school programs and functions,” remembered Mona. “I saw in the paper that First State Bank was opening an office in Quitman, so I applied for a job, but the only opening they had was as a loan secretary and new accounts clerk. They said I was overqualified. I explained how badly I wanted to be in Quitman, so they offered the job and I took it! It was hard to leave Citizens National Bank since I had been mentored so heavily by several wonderful people, but they understood fully.”
Once she started in Quitman, she was able to watch as the bank grew and changed over the years. She stayed the remainder of her banking career there until she decided the time had come for her to retire.
“We first opened that branch in a single-wide trailer while the permanent building was being built. The customer base grew quickly, so when we moved into the current building, we hired another loan secretary, and I became a loan officer again,” expressed Mona. “Several years later, after Buster Thomas moved to the Meridian office, I was promoted to Branch Manager and later Vice President of the Quitman Banking Center. I loaned money to a lot of wonderful people, some of whom also became friends; but I also had to do some collecting of debt that people didn’t pay, and that was hard! Sometimes there were legitimate reasons, and I would do my best to work with people so we didn’t have to foreclose, repossess, or get judgments against them, but what was difficult was when people blamed me for having to do that instead of accepting that they were the ones at fault. After banking regulations got extra tough and I wasn’t able to treat my customers the way I always had, I decided it was time to retire from banking. In 2012, I left banking to stay home, and that lasted for a few years before I found some other things to keep me busy.”
She understands the importance of an education, and while she was still at the bank, she made sure to continue her own education.
“After I began my work in banking in 1985, I attended numerous courses to increase my knowledge and customer service skills, which included graduating from The Mississippi School of Banking at Ole Miss,” stated Mona.
Her love of education extends beyond taking classes for herself. Mona is also part of an organization that is beneficial for high school juniors: Distinguished Young Women.
“I currently serve as Committee Chairman for the Clarke County Distinguished Young Women Program, where I plan and organize meetings, sell and organize the ads and sponsors for the program book, and handle all of the communication with the participants and committee,” explained Mona. “The year I started the program, it was because one of the other committee members’ daughter was in the program, so she couldn’t be on the committee. Once I got started, I learned a lot about the program and how worthwhile it is, so I was in it for the long-haul! The bad thing about me is that when someone decides to leave the committee, I take on their responsibilities too because no one else will, and then I get totally overloaded at times. The program depends on its volunteers and the community, so it takes all of us to make it work. I’ve seen the program make some wonderful changes in a lot of young ladies over the years, and I hope it will continue to do so!”
Distinguished Young Women isn’t the only program that Mona helps with. She is also very passionate about raising money to assist in finding a cure for cancer and works with Standing Together Against Cancer (STAC).
“Clarke County STAC was originally the committee for Relay for Life, which started in the late 1990s. Relay for Life was a fundraiser for The American Cancer Society, and we raised a lot of money for that for many years—sometimes exceeding $100,000. When it seemed the community was getting burned out on Relay for Life, we disbanded that organization but wanted to do something worthwhile with which we could still recognize those fighting the battle and remember those who had lost the battle to cancer,” declared Mona. “I don’t remember exactly who suggested the Anderson Cancer Center Benevolence Fund as a worthwhile beneficiary, but it was a great one! With RLF and STAC, I serve(d) as treasurer and kept records of how much each team raised. There have been a lot of memorable moments over the years: the lighting of the luminary bags, torches, and lanterns, and the reading of the names of those affected. The reverence of those moments was always so touching and will stick with you! There was a lot of fun had also, along with memories and relationships that stuck too. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to have a STAC fundraiser in 2020 due to COVID-19, and I’m not sure we’ll be able to have one this year, but you can bet we’ll get it back going because we all believe in the cause and recognition of those affected by the horrible disease.”
When she is not busy doing everything she can in the community, Mona loves to be able to spend time with her family. In fact, one of her favorite things to do with her family is camping, and she has some great memories from her camping experiences with them over the years.
“Over the years, we’ve done a lot of camping locally at Archusa Creek Water Park, but we love to venture off to other places out of state too. My husband loves to fish, so we’ve been to Alabama several times so he could fish on the river. I love the beach, so we’ve camped at Destin, Orange Beach, Gulf shores, Biloxi, and Gulfport. We’ve also gone several places in the mountains, which was a lot of fun and sights to see,” said Mona. “One of those memorable camping trips was the year I broke my ankle. We already had the camping trip to the beach planned, so even though I could only get around on a knee scooter and just had surgery to put a plate and pins in my ankle a few days prior, we decided to go. Eddie, Courtney, Lauren Smith, and I enjoyed several days at Gulf Shores, but they had to do a lot of waiting on me since I couldn’t do all the things I normally did. The funniest thing that happened was the day we arrived and Eddie was backing into our spot, none of us had any idea how soft the sand was, and we got stuck! We had to call our friends, Oliver and Gay Lynn Joyner who were also down there, to bring their chains and pull the truck and camper out of the sand. We all got a good laugh, and a little embarrassment, out of that.”
Mona spends time with her family as much as she can, and she even keeps her grandchildren a few days each week, which keeps her busy. No matter what she is doing, Mona is always doing whatever she can to show love and compassion to all those around her, and she plans to continue doing that each day.