Having rebounded from steep losses during a historic housing crisis, Exchange Bank embarked on a new chapter Wednesday with the appointment of its eighth president in the 123-year history of the Santa Rosa bank.

Gary Hartwick, currently the chief operating officer, will become president and CEO of Sonoma County's largest community bank on March 21.

William R. Schrader, the bank's current president/CEO, will become chairman of the board. He follows C. William Reinking, who is retiring after a banking career of nearly a half century.

Schrader, 63, who says he never missed a day due to illness in 36 years at the bank, will become Exchange Bank's sixth chairman. He said he moved from a federal regulatory agency to community banking because "I always felt you could make a difference."

Schrader was thinking about retirement in 2008 but instead was tapped to step into the presidency when President and CEO J. Barrie Graham resigned unexpectedly. At the time, the bank had recorded losses in two of the past three quarters, the first time in at least 50 years.

Schrader presided over the bank for nearly six years as its directors halted dividends in September 2008 and resumed them on a smaller basis three years later. The bank's losses, primarily tied to troubled real estate loans, totaled more than $22 million in 2008 and 2009.

Hartwick said Schrader's key accomplishment "was being a leader of this bank during one of the most difficult periods of its history."

Last week, the bank announced it was increasing its dividend for the second time since resuming the payments in 2012. On March 21 it will pay shareholders a quarterly dividend of 35 cents a share, an increase of 5 cents.

The dividend finances the Doyle Scholarship, which has provided more than $76 million to Santa Rosa Junior College students since 1948.

The scholarships are made possible by the bank's largest shareholder, the Frank P. Doyle and Polly O'Meara Doyle Trust. Frank Doyle was the son of the bank's founder, its second president and a champion of construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The increased dividends amount to a total payment to the trust of about $1.2 million a year, officials said.

Hartwick, 59, has worked five years at Exchange Bank and 37 years in the banking industry.

With the bank on a sounder financial foundation, Hartwick said he wants to focus on growth.

"The focus is going to be in the short term to grow that loan portfolio," he said.

The bank will look for new opportunities in such areas as wineries and agriculture, small businesses, trade and tourism, officials said. Hartwick emphasized that any growth will take place in "a controlled, sustained manner with high credit standards."

Schrader expressed confidence in Hartwick's integrity and experience. The recent dividend hike, he said, demonstrates the board's belief in the bank's steady progress and in the business opportunities that will emerge as the Sonoma County economy improves.

"We're confident about the future," Schrader said.