W. Conville Lemoine was still a student at St. Francisville High School when he got an after-school job at the Bank of Commerce & Trust. BOC needed someone to type up US savings bonds for employees of the local paper plant and Ms. Mott Plettinger, who taught business classes at the high school, thought Conville was a pretty good typist, so she recommended him for the job. Through eleventh and twelfth grades Conville spent evenings and weekends typing up bonds, filling in for tellers, and generally discovering that he liked the banking business pretty well. After graduating in 1972, Conville went to LSU to study accounting then, inspired by Ms. Plettinger’s business classes, switched to Finance and Commercial Banking. “Accounting 1 at LSU was easier than her bookkeeping class,” he reflected with a laugh. “I can still picture her chanting, ‘Assets minus liabilities equals owner equity!’” In 1976 Conville graduated from LSU with a BS in Finance & Commercial Banking, and took his degree straight back to the Bank of Commerce.
He might have stayed there too, had it not been for the tennis he started playing against Carter Leak in 1978—the year Carter was working to establish Bank of St. Francisville. The two bankers played regularly, and developed a good-natured on-court rivalry that neither wished to carry back into their business lives. Conville accepted Carter’s offer to join the newly formed Bank of St. Francisville, and left the Bank of Commerce’s venerable building on Royal Street (it’s now home to Grandmother’s Buttons) to move into a trailer on Commerce Street.
Thirty-eight years later the building—and the banking business—have changed a lot. But the things that attracted Conville to banking haven’t changed much at all. “What I loved about banking in a small town, was just the people part,” he remarked. “Being able to help them accomplish a goal, like getting into a house. When you know people and you know their issues and what they’ve overcome, you can go out on a limb. We would love it when kids came to us for money to go to college. Years later I still hear from people who say ‘I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through college if you hadn’t helped me out.’”
Conville is the sole banker in a long line of educators (his father was a music teacher and high school band director; his mother taught fifth grade; all four of his siblings are teachers), and he has that teacher’s passion baked into his DNA. In 1978 his election to the West Feliciana Parish School Board at the age of twenty-four made him the youngest school board member in the state. He was elected President of the School Board in 1980—a position he held for twenty-eight years. Passionate about early childhood education and keeping music and art part of the school curriculum, Conville was instrumental in bringing Early Head Start and Head Start programs to the West Feliciana Parish Schools campus. Offering early education opportunities to children from all backgrounds, all the way from birth to Pre-K, the programs are widely credited with improving student outcomes by providing a firm foundation upon which successful educations can be built. Beyond the school system Conville has served on the boards of Capital Area United Way, the St. Francisville Area Foundation, St. Francisville Chamber of Commerce, Istrouma Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, Our Lady of Mt Carmel Catholic Church, Heritage Ranch Children’s Home, and as President of the Rotary Club of St. Francisville.
But even with forty years of banking experience and a graduate degree from the Banking School of the South to his name, Conville still isn’t much for titles. Officially he is Vice Chairman of the Board, but really he’s still most comfortable out talking to people. Indeed, when folks say that his real office is across the street at The Magnolia Café, they’re only half joking. Asked to illustrate his role at the bank going forward, Conville related a story from back when he was running for election to the school board. He was out in the country campaigning when an old farmer explained that although he couldn’t vote for Conville, he was going to help him anyway. “The farmer said, ‘I’m not in your district, so I can’t vote for you … But don’t worry; I’m going to be a cultivator around the end rows for you,’” Conville explained. “That’s what I figure my role is now: I’m out in the community, cultivating for the bank.”