James E. Campbell, the founder of Shelby Savings Bank, passed away on November 12 in Center, Texas. He was 97. In addition to his decades of service to the banking industry, he was an entrepreneur who launched numerous businesses in his lifetime and served communities in Shelby County his whole life.
Campbell first worked in the family’s slaughterhouse business in Center after attending Stephen F. Austin College and serving two years in the U.S. Army Air Corps. In the years that followed, he worked as a bank teller at State Guaranty Bond Bank, livestock inspector and rancher. In 1956, he co-founded Farmer’s Gas Butane Co. and, subsequently, Farmer’s Natural Gas Co., operating that business until 1980. During roughly the same period, Campbell was a partner in purchasing and operating the Center Auction Barn, eventually becoming its sole owner. In 1973, he started General Shelters of Texas. It is still in operation today.
Perhaps Campbell is best known professionally for his more than 35 years leading Shelby County Savings Association/Shelby Savings Bank. There he served as chairman of the board, then as chairman emeritus in his last years.
Campbell’s devotion to his community and his contributions to East Texas developed from his love of helping people. He was involved in and contributed to Ducks Unlimited, Stephen F. Austin State University, the Roughrider Scholarships and local 4-H and FFA programs. He was instrumental in establishing Center’s off-campus extension of Panola College. He was also past president of the Center Rotary Club, from which he received the distinguished Paul Harris Fellow award. In addition, Campbell served on the board and as past president of the Sabine River Authority of Texas.
He served as president of the Stephen F. Austin State University Alumni Association, as well as vice president and on the association’s board. He was inducted into the Stephen F. Austin State University Hall of Fame in 2012. That same year, the James Campbell Plaza at Homer Bryce Stadium on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University was dedicated in honor of Campbell.
The Texas Industrial Development Council awarded Campbell the Volunteer Industrial Developer Award Citation for leadership and personal contributions to the development of the economy in his community and Texas. The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce recognized him with the distinguished citizen award, its highest honor.
He is preceded in death by his wife of 74 years, Mona Jeanne Jones Campbell; a daughter, Jamie Campbell Gamble; his son, Rick Lane Campbell; and former son-in-law, Randy McElroy. He is survived by his daughter, Angela Koonce, and her husband, David Koonce, as well as six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and numerous additional family members and friends.