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Harold Webster Smith, who died in October 1997, retired as chairman at First Federal's annual meeting in the spring of 1995. Again, his seat was filled by his youngest son.

Because of the dire economic circumstances surrounding its birth, First Federal of Waterbury, like all federally chartered S operated in a highly regulated environment.

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In June of that year, all the various banks in the First Federal family, including First Federal itself, were merged and rebranded under the name Webster Bank.

Harold Webster Smith opened First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Waterbury in October 1935 under the federal government's National Housing Act, which had been passed the previous year to stimulate the economy and make housing construction and home mortgages more affordable during the Great Depression.

In 1975, the thrift took over a failed redevelopment project at the corner of Bank and Grand streets and built the four story building it would move into in 1978, and which remains the company's headquarters.

was the important thing."

A year later, in 1987, Harold Smith retired as CEO, after having managed the bank's day to day operations for 52 years. He stayed on as chairman while James Smith was named the second CEO in the company's history.

Toward that end, the bank converted to a public company and held its initial public offering of stock, an event that added $35 million in capital to its war chest. As part of its conversion to a public company, the bank formed a holding company, Webster Financial Corp., named in honor of its founder.

He raised the $25,000 over the course of six months from a pool of about 20 people, including his six siblings, according to his son. The federal government matched Smith's $25,000 with a $75,000 loan the thrift was required to pay back within 10 years.

S were established to underwrite first mortgage loans to people who wanted to buy homes and construction loans to those who wanted to build them.

president in 1982.

WATERBURY (AP) Seventy five years ago Monday, in the middle of the most severe economic depression the nation has ever known, a 24 year old Waterbury native with high hopes and a clear vision of the future opened a oneman federal savings and loan association with $25,000 he had borrowed from family and friends.

"It was small and cramped and not very fancy, but none of that really mattered to my father," James Smith said. "The only thing that mattered was that the office was located in downtown Waterbury. To him, that Adidas Jogger Pants

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In 1991, First Federal made its initial acquisition when it purchased the failed Suffield Savings Bank out of receivership from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. That acquisition brought five new offices into the fold, increasing the bank's branch network from 11 to 16. "The joke around here Nike Air Vapormax Flyknit Glacier Blue is that the First Constitution acquisition enabled us to become a $2 billion institution on the same day that we became a $1 billion dollar institution."

First Federal of Waterbury grew slowly but steadily over the next few years. By 1938, the thrift's assets had reached $1 million. In 1942, it acquired the Griggs Building at 50 Leavenworth St., moving its entire operation into the ground floor, before gradually taking over the entire building several years later.

"Webster had a lot of capital in those days because they had made a strategic decision to pull back from the commercial real estate market back in the mid 80s," recalls Gerry Noonan, a Naugatuck native and head of the Connecticut Bankers Association. "They were careful and smart with their money and as a consequence, when the real estate market went up in smoke and a lot of banks found themselves in big trouble, they had plenty of capital with which to come in and make acquisitions."

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"Harold Webster Smith is a legendary name among bankers in this state, and Jim Smith has proven to be an outstanding bank executive in his own right," said state Banking Commissioner Howard F. Pitkin.

The Smiths were a formidable team.

Two other events made 1975 an important year in the thrift's history. That year, First Federal began offering customers checking accounts for the first time, when it debuted its interest bearing NOW checking accounts. Also that year, James C. Smith abandoned his career as a Wall Street analyst and joined his father and elder brother, Harold Webster Smith Jr., in the family business.

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The final $500 he needed to put him over the top was lent to him by his mother, Margaret Smith.

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First Federal's acquisition spree didn't stop there. In 1994 and early 1995, it acquired Bristol Savings Bank, Shoreline Bank and Trust Co. of Madison and Shelton Bancorp. It also announced an agreement with Shawmut Bank Connecticut to purchase 20 Shawmut branches in the Greater Hartford market, stretching First Federal's branch network to 63 and its total assets to $4 billion.

The new thrift opened on the second floor of the Farrington Building at 135 West Main St., overlooking the green. It opened in a single, 11 foot by 38 foot room on the building's second floor. Smith was the bank's only employee for its first year. Today, the bank has about 3,000 employees.

´╗┐Connecticut's Webster Bank marks 75 years of history

The Waterbury thrift was the second federal savings and loan to open in Connecticut under the National Housing Act, following First Federal Savings and Loan Association of New Haven, which opened in 1934. Treasury Department in Philadelphia before pursuing his dream of returning to his hometown to open a place where people could go to finance the purchase of their dream homes.

In 1986, he and his father realized First Federal needed to place itself in an optimum capital position to take advantage of any expansion opportunities the state's rapidly changing banking landscape might yield in the future.

didn't establish a second until it opened an office in what was then known as the Naugatuck Valley Mall on Wolcott Street in 1969 a deliberate, measured pace of growth that reflected Harold Webster Smith's capital management and banking philosophy, summed up in what could be called the institution's prime directive: "Never take a risk you can't afford."

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James Smith, who started his career at First Federal as the bank's assistant secretary, worked his way to the position of secretary in 1977, treasurer in 1980 and Adidas Hoodies

After having operated as a thrift for its first 55 years, First Federal converted its charter to that of a commercial bank in 1990. One year later, when a sizable commercial real estate boom was quickly followed by an equally potent bust that severely weakened several financial institutions across the state, the bank was in a strong enough capital position to strike.

Hundreds of federal savings and loan associations were started across the country under similar circumstances in the mid 1930s, said James C. Smith, Harold's third and youngest son and current chairman and CEO of Webster Financial Corp., the $17.7 billion corporation that eventually sprang from the elder Smith's $25,000 investment.

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