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Employer of the Year: United Bank takes pride in community service

Name a prominent community event, and you’re likely to see employees of United Bank — from the market chairman to the most recent hire — on the scene, giving back to Newton County.

“I think it is extremely important to be plugged in to our community, especially since they are our most valuable asset,” local board Chairman Thomas R. Kephart said.

For its community involvement, United Bank is The Covington News’ 2018 Employer of the Year. The newspaper plans to make this an annual award for local businesses who show an outstanding investment in Newton County.

United Bank’s history dates to a 1905 founding as The Bank of Zebulon. United Bank Corp. was created in 1981, and the company expanded into Newton County in 2007 with a new banking office in Covington.

Kephart’s family moved to Newton County when he was 14 months old.

“From that point on, I have actually never lived outside of Newton County,” he said. “I was born in 1972, went to kindergarten at the “little red schoolhouse,” which was beside the YMCA on Newton Drive. I then went to Porterdale Elementary, Cousins Middle School, Newton County High School, and I commuted back and forth to Atlanta to attend Georgia State University for my bachelor’s degree.”

Kephart was trying to decide his career path when Phil Stone got a copy of his resume. Stone was a member of the board of First National Bank of Newton County and happened to employ Kephart’s then-fiancée, Amy. Stone forwarded the resume on to John Williams, who hired Kephart as a management associate.

“I never thought I would stay in Newton County, but Mr. Williams kept challenging me with more responsibility, and eventually was able to take over as the CFO (chief financial officer) of FNB,” Kephart said. “He allowed me to get my MBA (Master of Business Administration) from Mercer University, and he also allowed me to attend the Graduate School of Banking at LSU during my time there.”

Synovus purchased First National in 2003 after Williams’ death. Kephart was the community executive for the Bank of North Georgia before becoming the division president for United Bank in 2011.

In more than six years at United, Kephart has seen his employees be involved in numerous organizations including Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs; Project ReNeWal; the Covington-Newton County Arts Association; the Covington Family YMCA; the Georgia Wildlife Federation; Friends of the Newton County Miracle Field; Chimney Park; the Washington Street Community Center; Action Ministries; Newton County Chamber of Commerce; Leadership Newton County; the Fuzz Run; Partners in Education; Relay For Life; the Covington Woman’s Club; the Satsuki Garden Club; Southern Heartland Arts Association and the Boys & Girls Clubs, among others.

“In most cases we take an active leadership role in these organizations including board membership or major donor,” Kephart said. “We also really support our local athletic teams. We also have a strong relationship with Oxford College, and we are active in activities with Georgia State University’s local campus as well.

“We also make additional charitable donations each year to some community groups that help those in need, such as the Community Food Pantry, The Salvation Army, the Rotary Empty Stocking Fund and Repairers of the Breach, among others.

“The bottom line is, our directors, officers and staff feel that it is vitally important to stay engaged in the community, and we always want to do our part.”

The involvement hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“United Bank is a community-focused bank that treats their employees with the same great respect as they treat their customers,” Ralph Staffins, the president of the Newton County Chamber, said.

“I am proud of this well-deserved recognition of one of our great chamber members.”

United Bank is a silver-level “chamber champion,” and Kephart serves as the board chairman for 2018.

Kephart said he thinks his home community has a bright future.

“I think that Newton County is perfectly positioned for the growth that we are about to see,” he said.

“Many people view Newton as a bedroom community for those commuting back and forth to Atlanta. However, we are attracting very good wage-paying jobs to the county, and I think that you will find more and more people that live and work locally.

“We are truly a cultural melting pot. Virtually every race and religion is represented in Newton County, and I think that the citizens of Newton County have done a pretty good job in embracing diversity as the community has continued to evolve.”

Kephart said he loves the fact Newton residents can take advantage of many recreational activities and expects more and more retail and other business opportunities won’t be far behind.

“I think that as new industry gravitates toward Covington, there will be continued demand for quality housing in the area,” he said. “I am convinced that we will see greater demand for live-work space and higher-end townhouses, particularly around the nucleus of Covington. I also believe this trend will find its way into the county over time.

“The beauty of Newton County is that we have room for quality expansion of both industry and housing, and we simply need to uphold quality standards.”