Jan Kepple ’71 Named Winner of the 2013 LAS Distinguished Alumnus Award

January 20, 2014

By Liz Cachey ‘15

Created in 1996, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumnus Award annually honors an LAS alumnus who has distinguished him or herself through service and exemplary performance in his or her field of endeavor. Every year, a request for nominations is sent out to all faculty members in the college, and once those nominations are received, they are then reviewed by the college’s executive committee, composed of the dean of the college, the administrative assistant to the dean, and all department chairs and institute directors within the college. Together, they choose an alumnus who best exemplifies character and merit worthy of recognition and winning the award.

This year’s honoree is Jan Kepple '71.

When she graduated summa cum laude from Bradley University with a major in mathematics, a Spanish minor, and certification to teach in Illinois, Kepple had every intention of becoming a math teacher. Upon moving to Memphis, Tenn., shortly after graduation, however, she realized Tennessee did not have a reciprocity agreement with Illinois and her certification was all but void in the new state. Determined, Kepple began the process of becoming certified in Tennessee while concurrently picking up an entry-level job with First Tennessee Bank in Memphis as a custodian for safety deposit boxes and working odd jobs around the office.

Kepple thought this would only be a temporary job on the path to becoming a teacher, but little did she know, life had other plans. That entry-level position in Tennessee was the start of a distinguished career in banking that knocked down gender barriers and has since garnered recognition.

Though Kepple did return to Peoria after her short stint in Memphis, by the time she returned, her life plan had already been altered. She had decided to enroll in a management training program in banking after learning that her supervisor at First Tennessee Bank had graduated from such a program.

The best program in Peoria for management training in the 1970s was offered by Commercial National Bank, as it was a hub for Peoria banking during that time. When asked by the program director how many words per minute she could type, Kepple was forced to remind him that she aimed to be a manager, not an administrative assistant. She ultimately became the first female trainee ever to be admitted to that management program.

Kepple admits she was naive and blindly positive in those days.

“If there was an obstacle, I just moved through it,” she said.

Being the first ever woman enrolled in the management training program certainly invited obstacles.

While working through the management program, Kepple utilized her mathematics background teaching several evening classes at Bradley at the request of Professor Brown, the department chair of mathematics at the time. This, however, was only a side endeavor, as she was fully committed to her banking path.  After completing the program at Commercial National Bank, she continued to move up the ranks while building her reputation as an intelligent and hard worker. She was given opportunities to create and develop new programs, and she did so with her program in the late 70s that helped establish checking accounts for Bradley University students.

In the 1980s, Kepple furthered her studies with a three-year program at the Graduate School of Banking-Wisconsin. She graduated that program second in her class and impressed her instructors so much that she was asked to return and teach bank simulation courses during summers.

Throughout her career, Kepple has remained on the leading edge of the Peoria banking industry. For the past six years, she has been Peoria Market President for F&M Bank, which is part of a 4-bank holding company with branches in Illinois and Iowa. She faces the difficult task of helping F&M Bank grow in the Peoria market in spite of resistance from the struggling economy and federal regulations that are tough on smaller banks. In spite of this, she has remained optimistic because of close ties with Caterpillar, Inc., Bradley University, and the hospitals in the area.

Kepple’s commitment to the Peoria area is personal as well as professional. She has been a volunteer for the Heart of Illinois United Way for nearly 40 years, where she has been an active fund-raiser and has served on several allocation panels within the organization. She is also past-chair of the marketing committee and past-member of the board of directors. Currently, she serves as vice-chair of the United Way’s self-reliance issue area, an area committed to providing others with the tools to find jobs, to remain independent, and to transition into permanent housing. 

In recognition of her invaluable contributions to the United Way, Kepple was awarded the 2012 Hoot Gibson Award for distinguished service.