Investing in Communities
Branch Manager reflects on groundbreaking event, banking and the La Mesa community
Carlton Hill shares recollections and gratitude as rebuilding begins for the San Diego-area branch
On July 28, 2021, we broke ground at the site of our new branch building in La Mesa, a little city in San Diego.
But to tell you about July 28, 2021, I need to go back to May 30, 2020, a day I remember like it was yesterday.
The day started with people marching to protest the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, just days after a La Mesa police officer was captured on video detaining a Black man (he was later fired for his actions).
As night fell, the protests turned violent. People started vandalizing and looting some local businesses.
I remember the texts — “Carlton, do you see what’s happening? Could something happen to the bank?”
I remember the complete, utter shock I felt as I saw footage of our branch engulfed in big, bright flames on every local news channel.
That night, our La Mesa branch—where I have been the branch manager for 14 years—burned down.
My branch colleagues and I stayed in close contact, making sure everyone was OK.
I’m so thankful that no one was hurt in that fire.
In the days following, I got calls and texts from countless clients checking to make sure that their banking team was OK. I never realized how many people I’d given my cell number to!
It was a reminder that being a branch manager isn’t about the bank. It’s about the people in it. The people who come in to cash their paychecks, buy a home, save for their kids’ college education and prepare for retirement—and the people who get to help them do it.
From the beginning, we knew we would rebuild the branch. Union Bank has been in La Mesa since 1926. The city wasn’t incorporated until 1912, so La Mesa was barely a teenager when Union Bank arrived! And we’ve grown close over the decades.
Just look at the artwork and messages of hope that members of our La Mesa community created and strung all along our fences. I still can’t find the words to express how much it meant to see that outpouring of support from our family, friends and neighbors. Maybe it’s because I’m a banker, not a writer… or maybe words just aren’t good enough.
Here in La Mesa, throughout San Diego, across California and in every part of the country, we are all rebuilding from the pandemic. Rebuilding livelihoods, businesses and our way of life. As I sit here in the temporary branch that we opened in January (a little trailer with three teller windows, two desks, one ATM… and zero complaining about how cramped it is!), and I look out at the site of the old building where the new one will stand, I can promise you this: We are rebuilding right alongside you.
On July 28, we got to celebrate the symbolic start of that rebuilding at our groundbreaking ceremony. People from throughout the community came out, and virtually every media outlet in town was on hand to document it. Together, we reflected on the past year and looked forward to our bright future. (We sweated together, too—it was hot!)
At the podium, I got to introduce Mary England, President and CEO of the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce, and some leaders from Union Bank and MUFG, our parent company: MUFG Americas CEO Kevin Cronin, Union Bank President Greg Seibly, Head of Community Banking Lisa Roberts and Head of Small Business Banking Omar Salah.
There were so many cameras there, it felt like Hollywood had come to La Mesa.
Then, we picked up our shovels and dug in.
I’m telling you—tossing a pile of dirt never, ever felt so good.
We’ve come a long way, and we’ve done it together. I’m forever grateful to this community, our clients and my colleagues.
In every community Union Bank is in, this is what we’re about: building our lives together.
If you’re in La Mesa, I’ll see you at the grand opening in the winter. Until then, come find me in the temporary La Mesa Branch at 4771 Spring Street.
We’re not going anywhere.
Written by Carlton Hill
Watch a short video with highlights from the groundbreaking ceremony.