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Money is Like Manure

For Jess and Angela Correll, the Cure for Greed is Reckless Giving

Jess Correll and his younger brother Vince were big dreamers. They were also big doers. As seventh generation Kentuckians, they sat around as teenagers discussing how they could become the wealthiest men in Kentucky.

“I liked selling, but I didn’t like selling hard-to-sell products,” Jess recalls. “I started to think a bank would be good. Money, everyone needs.”

In 1982, in their mid 20s, Jess and his brother bought their first bank, acquiring another every few years until they’d amassed five community banks. That was the beginning of First Southern Bancorp.

Jess was well on his way to becoming one of Kentucky’s wealthiest men, but not without its costs. His first marriage “blew up” and ended in divorce, “mainly because I was way too dedicated to work,” he says. He began to see he wasn’t as much of a life expert as he’d thought. “My divorce was a defining moment in my life,” he says. “It’s really a problem if the person who knows you best likes you least. I decided I didn’t want that to happen again.”

His divorce led to a lot of inner inspection. Looking back, he admits that he struggled with greed and “empire building.” “That’s my struggle,” he says, “my absolute weakness.”

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He began to model his life more after Vince—who Jess calls a “sacrificial giver”—and their dad, who he credits with being his “biggest influences early on in giving.” Vince died in 1996 from a brain tumor, another turning point in Jess’ life.

That’s also around the time he met his second wife, Angela—also a seventh generation Kentuckian—on a blind date. As their relationship progressed, Jess determined to do things differently the second time around. That includes making financial decisions as a team.

“We are both our closest advisors,” Jess says. “If I have a lot of pressure or a lot of issues at work, I can’t wait until I get home at night and lay it out and say what do you think of this. It’s made our marriage a real partnership.”

From the implosion of his first marriage to the dawn of his second, Jess walked a journey from greed to generosity. He was introduced to Crown Financial Ministries and participated in their small group study with some of his business partners, changing the way Jess viewed both company and personal finances.

Those changes impacted the way Jess did business. First Southern Bancorp began tithing off of its corporate earnings. Jess and his partners retired their business debt and committed to remaining a low-debt company by only making acquisitions they could fully fund in three years or less.

For their employees, they offered the Crown study to all their employees and matched their gifts to charity. The company also provides financial assistance for employees adopting a child and also helps sponsor mission trips by offering one paid week off a year along with paying half the trip’s cost.

“We want to be as successful as we can be while leaving faith and family ahead of our business,” Jess says. “We want to use our influence, our example, and our resources to help people make wise financial decisions. That’s different for a bank—we’re a bank that’s encouraging you not to borrow too much money, and to leave lots of margin in your life.”

The bank’s website even offers resources for budgeting and other financial decisions, stats on personal debt, plus material for teaching children about money.

“That’s the beauty of our organization,” says Doug Ditto, one of First Southern Bancorp’s founding members. “We all traveled this journey together. Jess’ transformation is also the company’s transformation—and for me personally, a lot of my transformation.”

Personally, Jess and Angela develop a strategic plan and vision statement for their finances and marriage each year. On a “good year,” the couple gives away 10-12 times what they spend, Jess says. They pour some of that money into their town’s local economy. They started several businesses in Stanford’s downtown area, including a farm-to-table restaurant, vacation rental homes, as well as a natural soap shop. Their goals are excellence, stewardship, and hospitality. “We see it all as a way to love people,” Angela says.

“I love what my father says. He says the antidote to greed is recklessly giving away money,” Jess says. “The very act of giving money away is an abundance mentality. It just purifies your heart and soul and makes you dependent on God again to bring the next load in.”

Angela grew up as a dreamer too, but her dream was to become a missionary. She recognizes how God has fulfilled that dream, though not in the way she expected. While she doesn’t live and travel around the world sharing the Gospel and making disciples, she’s been able to support missionaries financially. “That’s been the most beautiful thing,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds. I’m partnering with people all over the world in places I wouldn’t be able to go personally.”

“Vince used to say that money is like manure,” Jess recalls. “If you let it stack up, it starts to stink. He said if you spread it out, it has the potential to do some good, like fertilizer.”

To watch Jess and Angela’s story, watch their video from Generous Giving here and from National Christian Foundation here.

Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.