Lifetime banking in Mills
Ed Buerkle is a quiet man. His smile is slow in coming and is all the sweeter for that when it arrives. He is modest and prefers not to talk about himself. After some convincing, he agreed to sit down with me to talk about his long history with New York Mills.
I met with Ed in his office in the back of Farmers and Merchants State Bank. The bank has been undergoing renovations this past year, but Ed's office remains unassuming. I walked through the front door and stopped for a moment to announce myself. This was apparently unnecessary. "Go right back," I was told. Ed's office is open to visitors.
Ed's relationship to New York Mills and the Farmers and Merchants State Bank started before he was born. In 1924, Ed's father came to town as a liquidator for the State Banking Department. After six months of working with the existing banking entity, Ed's father reported to the banking department that he thought the bank could be reorganized rather than liquidated. Ed's father was hired as the Managing Officer, and he never left. In 1939, after his first wife died of cancer, Ed's father married Ed's mother, a young schoolteacher originally from Oklee, Minn. Ed was born in 1940.
Once he was old enough to get a job, Ed spent the summers of 1956 and 1957 working with his father at the bank. He graduated from high school in 1958, and spent that summer working for Otter Tail County. In those days, the minimum wage was $1 an hour, and as government institutions were not under the obligation to pay the minimum wage, the county paid Ed only $0.95 an hour. In 1958, after completing his summer employment for the county, Ed left New York Mills to study at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana. He returned to New York Mills to work for Lund boats for the summer of 1959, and then went back to working at Farmers and Merchants for the summers of 1960 and 1961.
It was while he was in college that Ed met Pat, the woman who would become his wife. Ed was visiting a college classmate in Florida when he met Pat's father, whose family was visiting Florida from Minneapolis. Pat's father learned that Ed and his friend studied at Valparaiso and introduced them to his daughter, Pat, who was planning on attending Valparaiso the next year.
Pat's father asked if Pat could ride with Ed from Minnesota to Indiana. Ed was forced to admit that his father had already given him $50 to take the train to school. Pat's father then invited Ed to drive to Indiana with his family, so Ed took the train to St. Paul, met Pat and her family there, and continued on to Indiana with them.
Ed's father was pleased with the fact that his son was willing to show Pat around and introduce her to other people. Despite his father's wishes, Ed kept Pat to himself. Six weeks after Pat arrived in Valparaiso, Ed and Pat went on their first date, an all-day date to a football game in Fort Wayne. Ed doesn't remember which team won.
Ed graduated from college in 1962 with two job offers to decide between. One offer was for $500 per month at Arthur Anderson in Chicago. The second offer was for $400 per month at Farmers and Merchants State Bank in New York Mills. Ed calculated that, by living at his parents' house, he'd actually end up better off by taking the job in New York Mills. He returned home and, excepting a six-month stint in the U.S. Army, he's been here ever since.
Ed and Pat married in 1963, ten days after Ed got out of the army. Over the course of the last 46years, Ed and Pat have raised five daughters and are now the proud grandparents of 13 grandchildren, with number 14 due in July. Ed laughs when he informs me that the girls still outnumber the boys in the next generation of Buerkles, eight girls to five boys.
When asked how New York Mills has changed over the course of his life, Ed points to the fact that when he was growing up in the 1950's, not much was happening in the town. The boom from World War II had settled down. Wages were low. Now, there is a lot more happening, in particular, there are many more activities in the schools. When Ed was growing up, the students had to furnish their own equipment for extracurricular activities. Schools, cities, and townships would often run out of money halfway through the year and had to continue on warrants, which are a type of loan. Thankfully, Ed hasn't seen a warrant at the bank for many years.
Ed has been an active participant in New York Mills affairs since returning here from college. He was City Treasurer for 40 years, ending this role two years ago. He is one of the three remaining charter members of the New York Mills Lions Club.
"In a small town," he says, "you are active in different things."
Considering the economic times, I asked Ed how the economic downturn has affected Farmers and Merchants State Bank. He explained that, as a small town bank, Farmers and Merchants has a limited amount of exposure to derivatives and the kind of commercial real estate causing trouble for larger banks. The local bank's loans are limited to the local market, so the community is not exposed to the down markets plaguing national banks. He cautioned that all banks have a certain amount of exposure because banking is a risk industry.
Over the course of his life, Ed's hobbies fell by the wayside as he focused his attention on raising his children and spending time with his grandchildren. He used to hunt, but he hunted less once his family took more of his time. One of Ed's pastimes is traveling. In his role as a bank president, he has had the opportunity to travel around the world to conferences, and he still enjoys traveling with Pat and his family. He hopes to be able to work a bit less all the time so that he can spend more time with his family and traveling.
When asked what he likes about banking, Ed answered that when he was younger, his motivating force was ambition. As he aged, he realized that he and the bank are "in the market of helping people and providing a service to them." He enjoys that element of his job most. As a small-town banker, he helps local community members get started at business, helps them build homes, and helps them achieve their goals. He provides a much-needed service to his home town. He may be past the age of retirement, but he enjoys his work and his impact on New York Mills so much that he says, "I don't see myself as ever really 100 percent retiring."