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Bowers says farewell to bank

News editor

As Shirley Bowers watched her son, Greg, greet well-wishers Friday at a reception honoring his retirement from Central National Bank in Marion, her thoughts drifted back decades to memories of two young boys playing in the dirt.

“When he and his brother, Russell, were little, they played in the garden,” Shirley said. “They smoothed off the dirt. Greg had his miniature tool toys, a tractor and so forth, and he’d farm. He’d build fences, and he’d farm. Russell would also have a smooth place, and he had his toy livestock and took care of those.

“When they grew up, do you know what they did? Greg went into farming, and Russell became a veterinarian.”

So how did Greg, the farmer, become Greg, the farmer-banker?

“I don’t know,” Shirley said. “We didn’t have any money to play with.”

It was an introductory economics course at Kansas State University that turned Bowers on to finance.

“I got in there and they started talking,” he said, “and I thought, ‘There’s people who study how people spend money, there’s a science about that’ — it was cool.”

Bowers also was in the Army, but one day, while home on a visit, he stopped at Farmers and Drovers National Bank (which CNB purchased in 1986) to ask president Ed Colburn if the bank would have a job for him when he was discharged in a year or two. Colburn said they might.

Bowers eventually followed up with a phone call when he got out.

“I could almost hear the swallow in the background. They’d just hired Larry Reiswig,” he said.

After a pause, Bowers got his hoped-for response. He could start working in May.

Reiswig, who worked at the bank with Bowers for 24 years, came in from Topeka for the reception. He said hiring Bowers was a good move.

“It was very important to have Greg,” Reiswig said. “He knew the local economy better than I did. Greg knew the lay of the land.”

Bowers also had an appreciation for a good meal now and then, Reiswig said. The pair routinely attended banking meetings at the Elks in Emporia, but they didn’t go to be educated.

“We wouldn’t admit it through the years, but if you ask Greg, it was just for the steaks,” Reiswig said.

Bowers straddled the worlds of agriculture and finance for nearly four decades. Keeping his hand in farming was good, he said, for being a banker in farm country. Farmers would see him driving an old grain truck, or hauling tires to be fixed, and they knew he understood a lot more about farming than the average banker.

Bowers got his start in banking at a time when a farmer’s reputation could serve as collateral for a loan.

“They’d give me a folder and say, ‘Here’s Max, whatever Max needs, do it,’” Bowers said. “So you’d type up the loan and they’d approve it. They knew everybody, too. They’d been here since the 50s and 60s.”

Increased bank regulation, and becoming part of the CNB network, made loan processing more complex and rigid. Bowers enjoyed the challenge of how to best present a customer to the loan committee, something he didn’t have to do for Farmers and Drovers. He said it was “fun” to knowing customers well enough to know when a loan would work. Conversely, the times applications had to be turned were hard.

“That’s just miserable,” Bowers said. “There are times you’ve got to say, ‘No, we just can’t do that.’ You just hate that.”

Bowers said Marion County farmers have done well adapting over the years to increased costs for land and equipment and changing techniques, even as the number of farms has decreased.

“The guys that are doing it are so good at what they do,” Bowers said. “They may not be as progressive as some places, but they’re progressive enough to be keeping up.”

Bowers said he was gratified to have so many people come to the reception, including surprise appearances by several banking colleagues from Topeka, and a former employee from 17 years ago.

Mostly, though, customers and friends were the ones who filled the bank lobby in the morning and trickled in throughout the day to send him off.

“Many happy years ahead of you,” one elderly farmer said.

“Thanks for coming by,” Bowers replied. “We’ll see you out and around. If I have a flat tire, you stop and help me.”

“I will,” he said.

Bowers, now just Greg the farmer, responded in kind.

“I’ll do the same for you.”

Last modified Feb. 4, 2015

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