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Hagerstown Trust making change

June 20, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

The past year has been one of impending change for Donald R. Harsh Jr.

After 36 years in the banking industry, including a decade as president of Hagerstown Trust Co., Harsh announced his retirement last August and the board of directors elected Jack B. Castle to replace him.

Working with Harsh, who will retire as chairman and CEO of Hagerstown Trust in September, Castle became chief operating officer in February.

"I have some other things that I want to do, not of a work nature. I feel 36 years was long enough to have contributed to the banking industry," said Harsh, 58. "The banking business, it does make demands. I like to think I've always kept them in pretty good balance, but it does take its toll."

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Just as he served alongside his predecessor as Philip L. Rohrer prepared to step down from the bank, Harsh, of Williamsport, has watched with a mixture of pleasure and discomfort, as Castle moved into the same role.

"It's different, it's a little different than maybe I had anticipated," Harsh said. "It's been pleasant in a way, because I don't have quite as much to do, but that's been a little harder to adapt to than I expected. It's fun to see the transfer take place, but at the same time, you're, all of a sudden, feeling that you're not as involved."

Only one year apart in age, Harsh and Castle, 57, have followed similar paths to the top of Hagerstown Trust, a subsidiary of Fulton Financial Corp., which had assets of $465 million as of March 31, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Harsh, married with one child, graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1968, at the age of 21. Given the choice between banks in Baltimore and Hagerstown, Harsh chose Farmers & Merchants Bank in Hagerstown.

"I think it was still small-town Americana," Harsh said. "I went to school in Baltimore, in the city, in the metropolitan area, and it wasn't that I disliked that, but it wasn't what I envisioned for my career and for my family. It was small town, the closeness, the intimacy with your neighbors that I didn't think existed in Baltimore."

Harsh moved on to Washington County National Bank, where he worked for 11 years.

Then he went to Ferris, Baker Watts Inc. investment banking firm.

He then went to First National Bank of Maryland, where he served as regional vice president before being tapped by Hagerstown Trust to serve as president, CEO and chairman of the board in 1995.

Coming to Hagerstown Trust a year after it became part of Fulton Financial, Harsh said he sought to keep the institution's focus on community banking first and foremost, even within the framework of the holding company.

"The notion that's been very attractive to me is that you are still operating a locally based, community-oriented bank as much as possible," he said. "We want to consolidate where it makes sense, but if it's going to have an impact on our customers, we want to do it locally."

Castle, married with six children, was raised in a suburb outside Chicago and graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor of business administration financial management degree.

A Frederick, Md., resident, Castle worked for the former Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co. in Chicago from 1974 to 1983, and then moved on to the Chicago branch of First National Bank of Maryland. He transferred to First National's Frederick region, where he met and developed a friendship with Harsh.

About 10 years ago, in the face of significant consolidations within the banking industry, Castle went to work for Legg Mason Inc. in Frederick County, where he worked as a financial adviser and wealth management specialist until Hagerstown Trust called on him to succeed Harsh as president.

"Don's shoes can't be filled; they're going to be very different shoes," Castle said. "Don has been a part of this community his whole life. I'm going to give my time and my efforts to do the best I can. We're going to build upon the legacy of a strong bank, a strong community bank."

Both Harsh and Castle said they believe the role of a banker is not just to handle money for their customers but also to help them realize their dreams.

"People have hopes and dreams of all different kinds, and so many of them require financial capital, and it's gratifying to be a part of that, to see the impact that you can have on a community, and impact on the lives of people," Castle said.

"We provide that financial advice to help customers to provide for their families and achieve their goals in life," Harsh added.

After he retires in September, Harsh said, he plans to stay active in the community and will retain his membership on the boards of the Washington County Health System and the Washington County Community Foundation.

He also plans to spend more time with his wife and, in the fall, go fly fishing in Florida with his son, who works in the insurance business.

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