ROCKFORD (WREX) — Seven years ago, Tom Kress faced a career altering choice.
He worked for Citizen's Bank in Lake Zurich and had an opportunity to move to New England to work through the bank's headquarters.
However, the idea of leaving Illinois, where his kids still called home, wasn't an attractive one.
So he and his wife decided to look for other options to stay in the state which led them to the Forest City.
"My wife and I drove out here one weekend and looked around. I went back to the office the next day and called associated and said 'We got a feel for the town and I think it's someplace we can live and thrive in,'" Kress said.
It didn't take long for Kress to start thriving in Rockford.
He brought 30 years of banking experience to Associated Bank, providing a needed sense of drive for employees.
"I think at the time I got here, we had really good people that just lacked some guidance and leadership," Kress said.
"So being able to provide that really allowed people to excel to a new level."
With Kress at the helm, he helped spur the Rockford Community Market.
The iniative put Associated Bank employees in a position to volunteer throughout the city.
It provided incentive too with every colleague that volunteers at least 50 hours will earn a $250 donation from Associated Bank to a not-for-profit of their choice.
Kress found it easy to get things started and just let things grow on their own, which led Associated Bank to playing a big role in developing downtown Rockford.
"We really thought that we wanted to be a part of rebuilding downtown and what a better way to say that than to turn around and invest right here in downtown," Kress said.
Associated Bank was soon all around the Rockford community.
Everything from Habitat for Humanity builds, clean up days at the Discovery Center and helping out at toy drives with the Salvation Army.
The bank has also done its part from the financial side, backing such groups as Rockford Rescue Mission and United Way.
United Way's president Paul Logli highly touted the impact Kress has created in such a short amount of time in Rockford.
“You can have the greatest position in the world but it’s more than just your position," Logli said.
"It’s your character, it’s your personality, it’s your leadership. Tom has used all of those things."
All of those qualities Logli mentioned led to Kress getting one of the biggest honors you can receive in Rockford.
A key to the city.
Mayor Tom McNamara presented Kress with the key ahead of his impending retirement from Associated Bank.
McNamara saw it as a great way to pay homage to everything Kress has done for the Forest City, including help get the inital funding to kick start the Rockford Family Peace Center.
"He has always been that type of person who says he sees something that he believes in," McNamara said.
"Not for his business but for the community and he’s the first one in. That’s pretty special.”
Kress' time at Associated Bank and in Rockford came to an end at the end of February.
He and his wife are moving to Tennessee to be closer to family.
It isn't an easy move for Kress to make but he does look back fondly on everything not just he, but the City of Rockford as a whole has accomplished since he arrived.
"The restaurants on State Street, you've got the sports complex downtown, you've got the hotel and the conference center built," Kress said.
"You do these things because if you get involved you can make a difference and you can see it living here."
Kress also emphasized how much of a team effort the last seven years have been.
He thanks all of his colleagues with Associated Bank, all of the community partners he worked alongside and, of course, the dedication of his loving wife.
If you know of anyone else who is making a positive impact in our community, you can fill out a nomination form here or you can reach out to email@example.com.