A vested interest Featured

11:17am EDT September 3, 2002
My father worked for the same company for 60 years.

When he died in June, he was chairman of the board of Citizen's National Bank in Urbana. He began his career as a cashier and did odd jobs, and was content to work his way steadily up through the ranks.

As his title, responsibilities and solid reputation grew, other financial institutions tried to lure him away, promising him the position of president, but he refused.

"I couldn't do that to the bank," he told me later. "I couldn't do that to Marvin."

Marvin Humphries was president of the bank for many years, and my father served as executive vice president. Dad retired in 1991, the same year he was elected chairman of the board.

His love and loyalty for the bank were never questioned. It was understood in our family and in town that the bank was his life.

His role at the bank was almost that of host, as he greeted customers with a smile and by name. Easy to do in a small town, you'd think, but he made it a point to know his customers and their needs. It was that attention that distinguished the bank from others.

The bank was more than a place for people to make transactions. Customers relied on my dad and other officers to listen to their troubles and their joys. Our lives were intertwined with the events of the bank.

Dad traveled every Friday night to North Lewisburg, where a branch needed documents for the next business day, and I went with him after high school basketball games, shivering while the car warmed up.

Each year for several years, my daughter enjoyed riding on the bank's float with grandpa and other bank employees in Urbana's annual Market Days Parade. Most bank employees felt like family, and they took care of each other, one of the biggest reasons they stayed with the bank for so many years.

Employers today neither expect nor demand the kind of loyalty customary in days gone by, but maybe they should. Employees are so transitory that just as a customer recognizes a new teller, he or she is gone.

And when employees are here today and gone tomorrow, there is no ownership of the company and its customers -- and no real pride in serving them. Maybe if business owners worked to retain employees for life, customers would stick around that long, too.