HAZARD — After 14 years with First Federal Savings and Loan on Main Street, long time CEO Tony Whitaker is looking forward to a change of pace, though his successor here in Hazard will remain a familiar face with the bank’s customers.
Whitaker will be moving out of the CEO position with the Hazard bank, as well as its parent holding company, First Federal Bancorp, after the end of the year. While Whitaker will be moving to Louisville and giving up the CEO position, he is in no way quitting his work for First Federal. He noted that will be moving into a chairman position, meaning he will still be in Hazard or at the company’s Frankfort location each week.
“I am getting away from daily duties,” he said. “I expect a day or two here or Frankfort.”
Whitaker first moved to Hazard in 1997 after spending many years in the banking industry, and was asked to make the move here by former First Federal CEO J.C. Eversole.
Whitaker quickly got to work after arriving in Hazard, becoming a productive and visible member of the community. He served as the president of the chamber of commerce for many years, and has been very active around town. He said recently that he has come to love Hazard since moving from Richmond.
“Truly Hazard is the best town in the world, really,” he remarked. “The only reason I am moving to Louisville is that my family is there, my daughter.”
J.C. Eversole, who stayed on with the company until he was 102, started First Federal back in 1960, and despite hiring Whitaker as its new CEO, continued to come to work on a regular basis until just two weeks before his death.
It was in the summer of 1974 that Eversole hired then teenager Lou Ella Farler to work part time. While she was still deciding what to do with her career, Eversole asked her to work full time in 1975. She stayed with the company, working her way up, and also became a Hazard city commissioner, a position for which she will not seek re-election this year.
Whitaker said that he had known he wanted to start the process of retiring for several years, and had groomed Farler to take over the position. She noted last week that the opportunity was one she couldn’t pass up.
“If opportunities come your way, you had better take advantage of them because it may not be there forever,” she said.
Farler has taken several opportunities over the past 38 years that have kept her with the company and moving toward her new position. One opportunity she is giving up on is that of being a city commissioner, as she noted that she wants to focus on her new position as the CEO of the First Federal location in Hazard.
Farler, who actually moved into Whitaker’s office recently while Whitaker moved himself to the bank’s busy lobby, says she is excited to take on the new role, and is happy to still have Whitaker around during this transition.
Farler, a Hazard native, said she has several goals, but most of them comprise of building on the foundations they already have. She wants to grow the business, but remain community-minded.
During his tenure at the bank, Whitaker has overseen several major changes, including the merger that formed First Federal Bancorp, and then taking the company public on the NASDAQ exchange.
“Lots of changes have taken place in that time period, but it has been good,” Farler added.
The two have worked together for the last 14 years, and Whitaker said he anticipates a smooth transition, both with Farler in Hazard and with Don Jennings, the current CEO at the Frankfort location. Jennings will additionally take on the role of CEO of the holding company upon Whitaker’s retirement.
“We work together and everybody gets along,” said Whitaker. “Don and Lou Ella are very capable, and very qualified.”