Mike Radliff is a self-described lucky guy. A VCHS Class of ’81 alumnus, he has known and enjoyed the hometown embrace of Vandalia since boyhood.
If you take advantage of the opportunities in Vandalia, they can take you a long way.
Growing up here, the school and the community comprised an almost indistinguishable backdrop for his youth. He played sports, was in the band, and enjoyed friendships he maintains to this day. In his inimitably humble fashion, Mike claimed he had just enough talent to be 70-feet from the performance stage, relegated to Spotlight No. 2, in the school’s musical productions.
Evidently, what he lacked in thespian skills or stage presence, he made up for with his jump shot, because he was able to play in two Holiday Tournaments and contribute to two Championships. But it was an auspicious meeting at the next Holiday Tournament that changed his life. It was here that he met his wife, the former Robin Lowry, who was from Vandalia, but who’d moved away for a few years during high school. She’d returned to visit during the Holiday Tournament over Christmas break from the pair’s freshman year in college and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mike and Robin found themselves raising their son and daughter while pursuing career ambitions in the Springfield and Champaign areas for the next 34 years when, in 2015, Mike received a call from community icon and longtime President of FNB Bank, Ernie Chappel. Ernie told Mike that he was going to be stepping down soon and suggested he toss his name in the hat as his potential successor. Mike was honored, and was soon brought in as the tenth president in the Bank’s then 150-year history. Two years later, Robin, Mike, and the entire community, mourned the loss of Ernie to cancer. Mike considered Ernie to have been not just someone who did much for Vandalia, but mentor and a friend.
No matter where he actually lived, Vandalia has always been home for Mike. His parents and in-laws stilled lived here, and many of his childhood friends had returned either just before or just after he’d returned. “This is a place where we know one another, where we trust one another, and where we look out for one another,” Mike tells me when I ask what he finds so compelling about his hometown. During the pandemic, Mike and FNB Bank found themselves, along with the rest of the community, in unprecedented territory. “There was no blueprint for this, but there was real fear in the economic uncertainty of it all; we had businesses that needed our help, and families that depended upon the paychecks from those businesses, which were suddenly in jeopardy without some cash-flow assistance. We were able to help many in our community stabilize and regain their financial footing through administration of the Payroll Protection Program and other mechanisms we were able to facilitate with more agility than many of the larger regional and national banks. In fact, we even received a number of calls from former Vandalians who were operating businesses outside of the region, who were struggling to get the help they needed from their own banks and we were able to help them as well. It was very satisfying to be able to be there for our community and those who still regard Vandalia as their hometown in that time of crisis.”
Mike and I discuss our shared affection for youth entrepreneurship (my 8-year-old daughter makes bracelets and sells them online!) and our appreciation for the very successful Fayette County CEO program. Heartened by the innovative energy and hard work he sees in so many of the student participants, he believes the future is very bright, not only for these students, but for Vandalia itself. “Technology has really leveled so much of the playing field for new business entrants today, and I feel so strongly that those kinds of levers, coupled with our kids’ strong work ethic, can really drive a tremendous amount of success.”
As the last grains of sand slipped through our time together, Mike reminded me, once again, that he viewed himself as a very lucky man. But in his likably unique, self-deprecating way, he was quick to point out that, “At ‘Spotlight No. 2,’ there was never anything particularly special about me, but this community? Now that’s another story." He closes with a nugget that won’t apply everywhere, but we both agreed that, for certain, applies here: “If you take advantage of the opportunities in Vandalia, they can take you a long way.” Clearly, from what I’ve seen here, there is no disputing that.