When Mills Shallene isn’t signing off on loans for prospective businesses as the president of the Wise County market of First Financial Bank, or shuttling his daughters to 4-H events, or planning fundraisers that evolve into monumental events, the 2013 Outstanding Citizen (as selected by members of the Bridgeport Area Chamber of Commerce) knows where to find peace.
Green pastures and grazing cattle.
“Some guys play golf; other guys go hunting,” the Texas A&M University alum said. “My hobby is cattle … what keeps me sane.”
Shallene and his wife, Kathy, originally kept commercial cattle on their property south of Bridgeport. But when their oldest daughter, Sheridan (a seventh grader at Bridgeport Middle School) expressed an interest in showing animals – and then landed a second-place finish at her first exhibition – the family swapped their commercial cows for animals that would produce show steers and heifers for Sheridan and the couple’s younger daughter, Kaylyn, a fourth grader at Bridgeport Intermediate.
“Now we artificially inseminate everything and try to produce show animals,” he said. “The fact that my girls show and are into cattle just makes it that much more special.”
Although Shallene never showed animals himself and never planned for his daughters to, the affinity for cattle seems genetic.
Shallene also runs cattle on a ranch in South Texas, where the seed that blossomed into a passion was planted during the summers spent with his maternal grandfather, “Papa” Caroll Kennard.
“He had the ranch in Anderson, right south of College Station,” Shallene said. “We’d spend a lot of time together, riding horses and just staring at cows.
“He – and my father, too – was the person I looked up to; the one that brings a tear to my eye just talking about him,” he continued. “He was a big cattleman. He gave me the bug, made me want to have cattle.”
So when he bought land in the Cottondale area, he wasted no time in pursuing that desire.
“When we got the property out here in 1996, the first thing I did was, I got cattle,” Shallene said. “I grew up in Keller, and whenever I was growing up, it was a rural town; the area was rural. It wasn’t anymore. I wanted to raise my family in the country. This was the right direction to go.”
When Shallene and his bride relocated in 1997, he retained his job in downtown Dallas as a loan underwriter for small businesses.
“The roads weren’t as bad then as they are now; there wasn’t as much traffic,” he said. “A good day was an hour and 15 minutes; a normal day an hour and 30 minutes. I would get up real early and try to come home early.”
He continued that job for a few years until he became a loan officer for Keller State Bank – cutting in half his commute time.
“I gladly took that job for the shorter commute alone,” he said. “It was an overall great deal. Keller was still kind of small then, and in that position I was able to cut my teeth in lending.”
When the bank’s president, who recruited Shallene to the Keller bank, transferred to the same post at Texas National Bank in Southlake in 2002, he asked Shallene to join him as his senior lender.
Its owners, First Financial Shares, bought First National Bank of Bridgeport three years later, and asked Shallene to run it.
“I thought for about a second or two,” he said with a laugh.” Of course I said yes. That would bring me real close to home and where my family was. At that time, my oldest daughter was starting kindergarten here in Bridgeport, so it was perfect timing. And it’s been great.”
Shallene admits the first few years were a challenging transition.
“And people wondering who First Financial Bank was,” he said. “I think we’ve proved ourselves that we are a pretty good bank in the community now, and we have quite a bit of market share. We’ve grown; we’re profitable; and we have a good reputation in the community. We help people out every day.”
Working primarily as a commercial lender, Shallene has aided in the startup of several local, thriving businesses.
“To see their success and to know that the bank had a part in that, through the finances, is very rewarding,” he said.
But perhaps the bank’s biggest contribution to the community comes in the form of volunteer hours served by its leader, and other employees, too.
“Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been very involved in the community,” he said. “I’m a strong believer in community service. I think one of my God-given gifts was service. Good things come from service.”
Shallene is a past president and current board member of the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce; treasurer of the Bridgeport Education Foundation; and a founding member of the Stagecoach Committee. In fact, Shallene literally brought the stagecoach to town.
“Jay Craddock and I went to Freeman, Ind., to pick it up,” Shallene said. “I’m pretty proud of the work of that committee and the Wise County Firefighter Relief Benefit committee.”
Shallene spearheaded the group that planned a dinner and auction fundraiser collected $193,000 for local firefighters last spring.
“It was a great event,” he said. “A lot of people attended, and we raised a lot of money for our firefighters. This was after the big drought and all of the fires that wore out the guys and all of their equipment.”
But the pride elicited by those accomplishments pales in comparison to his beaming smile at the achievements of his daughters.
“I’m more proud of them than anything, even this award,” he said as he began the interview sharing the success of his oldest daughter at the Fort Worth Stock Show last week (Sheridan’s Hereford calf, Buster, went for $14,000 at the Feb. 7 sale). “Don’t get me wrong. I’m honored by the award. But those girls are my pride and joy. Our life centers around the girls and their activities.”
In addition to showing animals at the Wise County Youth Fair and stock shows across the state, both girls play basketball and volleyball. Dad proudly hauls the animals, cheers from the stands and even runs with the elder of his daughters as she trains for cross-country and track.
All four members of the family are members of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, where they are each part of a LifeGroup.
“Between the kids and the bank and church and the cows and volunteer activities – there’s not much time left over,” he said. “I do have a lot on my plate.”
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m very blessed; God has blessed our family,” he said. “I fell into a job I loved. I didn’t plan it. I just fell into it. I somehow found my wife, a great wife, and we’ve been blessed with great kids. I work for a great organization that has put me in the town where my family is – that’s a blessing. We are blessed to live in a great community and to serve a community of such great people.”