Good Neighbor Jeannie Deen
by Pat Saik
Anybody who knows Jeannie Deen (and that’s a considerable number) knows her as an asset to the Hancock County community—a committed and caring individual who enjoys watching people in the community grow and thrive. No two ways about it. Jeannie Deen just plain loves it here.
Just to keep the record straight, Jeannie Deen does not have a middle name. Her last name is Deen. But growing up in Corinth MS, everybody had two names like Jane Ellen. Joe Willie or Irma Rose. So people took to calling her Jeannie Deen. It’s stuck to this day. It can get comical when people ask Jeannie her last name and she says Deen. “So your name is Jeannie Deen Deen?” Well. No.
Though she grew up in northeast Mississippi, and lived and studied and worked in Hattiesburg at the University of Southern Mississippi, it was Bay St. Louis and its people that stole Jeannie Deen’s heart. Jeannie relocated to Bay St. Louis in 1983 to work with Gulf National Bank, which later became People’s Bank.
One of the first female loan officers at Peoples, Jeannie has successfully guided and supported countless Hancock County residents and businesses for everything from financing a new car, to helping others move to the Bay, and to loaning money to expand or start a small business.
“I dearly loved watching the loans I made going to work,” Jeannie declares with enthusiasm. “I liked working in a small organization where I could have some input on customer’s needs. I never had a boring day.”
Jeannie Deen listened to countless stories of interest in her work as a loan officer. Her love for listening to peoples’ stories harks back to her high school days, when she loved working part-time for The Daily Corinthian, Corinth’s newspaper. Not only did she take pictures (she knew how to develop them in a darkroom as well) but she got a chance to interview people, usually after some catastrophe like a train wreck in the town next door.
Jeannie recalls the “trying times” after Katrina. She worked with her customers and was gratified to see areas of town like the Depot District come back to life. She cannot say enough about the people in Hancock County. “People here wanted to do things right and work it out."
Even when times got hard, it was unusual for any customer to default. Most everyone holding a loan wanted to work with her to work it out. And they did. Often it was Jeannie Deen who reached out to customers holding loans. By the time she was through, she had personally contacted everyone and begun a dialogue. Jeannie Deen bent over backwards to keep the community viable.
Jeannie Deen modestly denies the suggestion that the low default rate on loans she had madealso had to do with the relationships she had nurtured over the years. Jeannie could offer personal one-on-one relationships in a small hometown bank. She is adamant that Hancock County is special. Offered the opportunity to work in Gulfport, she politely declined. “It’s here where I want to be.”
Jeannie Deen chose to retire in late 2011 after 28 years of continuous service with People’s Bank; she was serving as a regional manager when she retired. She still is tuned-in to the community and is as pleased to see folks doing well in business as she did when she was a banker. “I love to watch the people and businesses in Bay St. Louis grow.” And she “puts her money where her mouth is,” supporting local businesses with as much enthusiasm as if each one were still her baby.
Jeannie’s decision to retire came about one day when she was dressing for work and struggling with putting on a pair of panty hose.” Wouldn’t it be nice,” she thought to herself, “if I didn’t have to put on panty hose every morning?”
Ruminating further, she silently admitted “hating the darn alarm clock” and wondered what it would feel like to break from the “eight to five” working life. For the first time in years, she could satisfy her yearnings to sleep past her usual awakening at six a.m. With sudden but certain clarity, Jeannie Deen decided it was time to retire.
The freedom she has with time is one of the greatest joys. She remembers before retirement when she was anxious about getting back on time after lunch. Now, when she stands in line, for example, at Subway during the lunch rush and she notices someone behind her obviously stressed and in a hurry, Jeannie Deen turns to the customer behind her and says, “You go ahead. I’m in no rush. Really. I’m in no rush. I’m retired.”
One thing for sure. Jeannie Deen will never be bored. She’s teaching herself new computer skills and helping her mother, 86-year old Lorene Deen, to navigate her finances. One friend is urging her to play the harmonica because she knows how to play it. She stays involved in looking after the library as a member of the Hancock County Library Foundation Board. Through the Hancock County Community Foundation Board, she helps oversee grant programs and loan programs that bring funds into the county. At the time of her interview, she was looking forward to the Hancock Chamber's annual awards gala, since some of her former bank customers were receiving awards.
Awhile ago, when Jeannie Deen was employed at the University Medical Center in Jackson, she became acquainted with Mississippi literary legend Eudora Welty. She must have made quite a good impression because sometime later, when Jeannie attended a Eudora Welty conference, Ms. Welty spotted her from the front row of the auditorium, and leaving her front row seat climbed up several aisles into the audience to sit next to Jeannie Deen, politely declining adoring fans urging her to return to her designated seat.
“I’m going to sit next to Jeannie Deen,” Ms. Welty spoke sotto voce as she motioned to the seat she had taken.
Ms. Welty knew what she was doing.
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