Saturday, October 3, 2015


I think the preamble to this blog announces that one of the purposes is to hand down stories to my kids. Three of the kids grew up in Sioux City, so these stories may ring some bells.

It has been my great good fortune and privilege to have known a number of interesting and wonderful people in my life. I could call up the names of a few (and that gets more difficult with each year), but a character who stands out is Harry Pratt.

Harry could be better known to some as the great uncle of Fred Grandy, "Gopher" from the Love Boat and a US Representative from Iowa. In Sioux City, Harry was a celebrity of great standing on his own.

Every year about this time, he would come to our office at the bank and get his investments settled for the time that he would be away. He spent winters in La Jolla, California and every year he would complain about the trouble it would take to get someone to drive his Cadillac to California, then back and the traffic was getting worse. One time he exclaimed, "I think I'll just get a motorcycle." Harry at that time was into his 90's.

Harry and a few others were instrumental in pulling the bank out of the Bank Closing of 1934 and making it into the leading banking institution in Sioux City. When I joined the Trust department, we had just over $100 million in assets, and I just found out that they now have over $2.3 billion under management.

Every four years, he accompanied several others to Canada for a fly-in fishing trip. As the years passed, the companions changed and finally the operator of the lodge told Harry that he could have the trip free when he turned 100. He made it despite his complaint that "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd taken better care of myself." He expired the next year.

Mrs. Booth and her brother George loved to invite me to dinner at the Country Club and she gave me a pop-over pan that has been lost to the ages now; Helen McMaster (Matt at age 11, summer in Fargo: "Helen, the front of your Jaguar is covered in bugs!" Helen, "You hit a lot of them when you set the cruise at 90."), Bob Williams (felled by a severe stroke in his early 60's), Mr. Ed Palmer (he was always Mr. Palmer to me, but encouraged me to call him Ed) who basically established the wholesale grain trade in Western Iowa and the barge traffic, too; Mr. Gossett, the president of the bank for decades, Ted Thompson.  In previous places, "important" people had treated me as a peasant--thinking of George Cook (head of an insurance company), Bill Smith, head of a bank, but in Sioux City, they treated me with dignity and that goes such a long way.

I don't remember his name and I always had trouble with it, but I received a call from the banking floor requesting that I come down and talk to a "gentleman" who wanted to get some investment advice. At that time, my job was to invest the bank's bond portfolio and to buy and sell bonds for our correspondent bank and larger customers.  When I was introduced, I understood why the referral was so tentative--he was a small, wiry man with strawberry blond, scraggly hair that appeared to have been cut by his own hand; a creased and sunburned face that nearly glowed bright red; plaid shirt and baggy dungarees that were held in place (I don't make this stuff up) with baler twine. He had heard that short-term interest rates were 15% or so, the bank down the street would only pay him 6% and wondered if he could do better with us. As it turned out, the answer was yes...and he invested $3 million. He farmed by Salix, and while we were never "friends," I counted him as one of the good people I knew.

I told you that Harry was old. We hired a fellow to join the lending cadre who came to us in about 1980 from a bank in Council Bluffs. Harry was introduced to him, heard he was from CB and asked, "I used to live in Council Bluffs. Did you know so-and-so?" Bill: "No." "Well, did you know such-and-such?" Bill: "No." This went on for a couple more names, when Harry looked quite perplexed and finally stopped and thought a while. "Aw, hell, thought you might be an imposter there for a minute, but I guess you might not know those guys--I left Council Bluffs when I was 35 years 1925." Some of my fondest memories of Sioux City involve the terrific people of one or two generations older who treated me so well.

Bless them. My fondest hope is that the younger members of my family can experience the entertainment and the encouragement of cool older people as I did. Priceless.

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