We have reached the end of an era. My banker has retired. I'm not entirely clear on his complete resume, but he has been at the bank where I've been a customer pretty much all my life. As far as I'm concerned, that's the only job he's ever had.
For the majority of my life, I've also known him by just one name: HelloDennis. Much like Madonna, Cher, Groucho and Fabio, he is a one-name guy. The story behind that one name goes back almost forty years.
We used to feed a lot of cattle after we quit milking cows in 1976. (Thursday, November 4th, to be exact.). Some of those feeder cattle came from Wyoming, some came from Texas, some came from Oklahoma and some came from various sale barns in our area of northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota. I was pretty much standing next to my dad as often as I could when I grew up. He'd take me to the cattle auctions with him sometimes so that I could learn. Other times, he'd send me with an order buyer who bought cattle for us. LeRoy, that order buyer, was a great old guy. He'd stop by the farm to let us know about any groups of cattle he knew were coming to the sales that he thought we'd like. Dad would sometimes send me along with LeRoy (and let me skip school to do it!). Dad figured that I knew what we wanted and what we didn't want, and he knew that I was too young to get there on my own to buy them.
When I was with LeRoy one day, a group of calves came through the ring and we didn't bid on them. The ringman came over to LeRoy after they sold and asked why he didn't get on that group. LeRoy pointed at me and said, "I'm working for him today and he didn't want 'em."
We got the next group, though. From that point forward, the ringman looked at me first before he looked at LeRoy for a bid. Keep in mind, I was about 9 or 10 years old at the time and LeRoy was in his 70's or 80's.
Some of the most entertaining sales we went to were the Special Roundup Sales at the barn in Waukon, Iowa, about 40 miles away. Ozzie, the guy who ran the barn, was a showman. He was always wound up in the sale ring and kept things lively during the auction, whether that meant throwing candy and peanuts at the audience, or climbing over the sale ring fence to get right in your face to get a bid. The Roundup Sales would take place when Ozzie would take some group of cattle from his farm on one side of town and drive them down the road to the sale barn beyond the other end of town. They weren't going down the road ditches, either. We're taking right down the middle of the pavement! That's how they became known as Roundup Sales.
The first time I went to one of those sales and saw the "evidence" all over the roadway, I couldn't figure out how anyone could haul cattle and have that much stuff spill out of the truck. But that was before I became familiar with the standard operating procedure of the guy I came to know as The Wizard Named Oz.
We got a fairly large group of steers bought at the sale in Waukon this particular day when I was with Dad. When it was time to go home, we stopped at the bank on Main Street in Ridgeway. I had been to the bank with Dad countless times before.
Dad walked in and went to the teller window. On the other side of that window was the teller he greeted with a simple, "Hello, Dennis."
Dad then wrote something on a sheet of paper and passed it under the window to Dennis without saying anything. Dennis looked at it and his eyes got a bit bigger. He then turned around and walked over to the desk of another employee, his sister-in-law, Diane, and said something to her in a low enough voice that I couldn't hear it. (Of course, at that age, my ears were barely the same height as the counter!) Diane handed Dennis a sheet of paper and he came back and handed that one to Dad without saying anything. Dad wrote something else on the sheet, handed it back to Dennis, said something short and simple, like, "Okay," and we turned around and left.
That whole procedure didn't make any sense to me. This wasn't my first trip to the bank with Dad. It seemed to me like we always had a hog check, or a milk check, or a cattle check or something that he would write his name on and then whomever was the teller would ask if he wanted any cash. Sometimes there would be some money that would be handed back to him, which he would neatly arrange by denomination in his wallet. There would be some general chit-chat and then we'd head out. We didn't do any of that this time. For the life of me, I wasn't really sure what we had actually done.
Dad and I climbed in the truck and got ready to head back into mid-day traffic in downtown Ridgeway. (We were the only vehicle.) My curiosity was beyond piqued, so I decided it was time to start my usual extensive line of questioning.
"What did we just do in there?" I asked, in as stumped a fashion as I could.
"We just borrowed a-hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand dollars," Dad said very matter-of-factly. Case closed.
Whoa. My brain was ready to explode, but I kept the questions to myself and re-ran the whole scenario of what had happened over and over in my head. The way I figured it, we walked into the bank, said "HelloDennis" and they gave him a hundred grand and change without saying or asking anything.
Really? Did I miss something? That sure seems like what had just happened and it sure looked easy to me.
File it under awesome
I knew one thing at that moment: My dad has the coolest job of anybody! All you do is walk in and greet that one guy with "HelloDennis" and they give you money, no questions asked. We can file that one under "awesome."
What I didn't know at the time was that Dad had actually talked to Bob, the bank president, before we went to Waukon, and got a line of credit approved. The paperwork he and Dennis exchanged was just the formality once we knew the actual amount. Diane knew the terms and gave her approval when we got there.
That was all stuff that I learned years later. But on that particular day in the 1970's, as far as I knew, all you had to do was walk in, toss out a quick "HelloDennis" and he'd hand over a pile of money to you without hesitating.
I invented the world's first Mental Post-It Note that afternoon. Each time I went in the bank from that day forward, I always made sure I greeted that one guy with a friendly "HelloDennis!" just in case he would hand me some money. I planned to keep greeting him that way, just in case the trend held.
When it came time for me to start my own operation a few years after that initial HelloDennis episode, yet another bovine mentor got some cattle for me. Curt was LeRoy's replacement. He and I got along equally well. I went to the bank to line up financing after talking to Curt and was pleased to see HelloDennis at the window when I got there. Not following the script exactly, I fired off the requisite greeting and then actually told him what I needed instead of writing it down on a sheet of paper and passing it under the window.
The old HelloDennis formula didn't work like I thought it would. Dennis referred me to Bob, who told me to come back to his office with him. Bob and I discussed what I needed, what my plans were for the cattle and how I planned to repay the loan. He asked me if I had ever filled out a financial statement for the bank, which I hadn't. Bob gave me a form and I filled it out in fairly short order, seeing as how I wasn't all that old and didn't have what you'd call a diverse financial profile.
Bob asked how much money I needed and then looked at the form I gave him.
"Okay, that shouldn't be a problem. I'll put it in your account today. Anything else we can do for you today, Jeff?"
No, sir, that pretty much made my day! I figured there would be a ton of paperwork and I'd have to wait for the bank to review everything before they gave me a decision, based on what I had learned in my junior high and high school business classes at that point in life. This was as close to a HelloDennis scenario as I had hoped.
Bob and I shook hands and I headed out the door. He sold the bank later to another larger bank in Cresco. Even though that bank is closer to me than the one in Ridgeway, I think I have only been inside it once in my life. I prefer to drive a little bit further down the road and go to the branch in Ridgeway. You can't find a HelloDennis everywhere, and it's hard to put a value on the one I found.
As Sherill was ready to head out the door to give her presentation for the shrimp business at the bank in Ridgeway for our loan proposal last year, I left her with this parting advice: "Don't forget to call him HelloDennis when you walk in. Then he gives you a hundred grand, minimum. It's a sure thing if you do."
She did, and it worked.
Congratulations and best wishes for a long and happy retirement, Dennis. It has been a pleasure to know you and work with you all of these years. If the fishing and golf get to be a drag, let me know. Maybe we can find some part-time work for you in the shrimp operation to add some flavor to your life.
Jeff Ryan is Guy No. 2 in the operation of Two Guys Farming, Inc., near Cresco, IA.
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