Interviewed by Charlotte Wangrin, November 2, 2011; transcribed by Marlene Patterson
CW: I am interviewing Bill Wendt. He is the President and CEO of the Henry County Bank. The main office is located across from the courthouse here in downtown Napoleon. Good Morning to you Bill. Can you tell me something about the Henry County Bank.
BW: Good Morning to you. Thank you for stopping in. I will go back some years ago, actually before I worked at the bank. The bank was formed in May of 1936.
CW: That would have been during the Depression.
BW: At that time it was called the Holgate State Bank.
CW: Where was it located?
BW: In Holgate. Unless I go through our archives I don’t remember who the president was and who the board members were. In 1954 and 1955 the Holgate State Bank built a branch in Malinta, Ohio. The bank was growing, then through the years the bank obviously grew faster. Then in 1969 the bank applied to individual banks to open up a branch in Napoleon, Ohio. They also applied to change the name from Holgate State Bank to The Henry County Bank which was approved. So the bank came to Napoleon to this facility here in 1971 when the new facility opened. When we first moved to Napoleon we operated out of the Lutheran Church basement. The Henry County Bank was built on the site of the Curdes Bakery.
CW: I thought they were on Perry Street.
BW: It may have been before this, but I don’t think so. The Henry County Bank was built on the site of Curdes Bakery. It was a very small building and was the Curdes Bakery at the time. The bank operated there at that time. We opened up in 1971. The bank actually opened up in 1969 and was operated out of the former Curdes Bakery building. The building opened up and at that time Lester Fruth was the President of the bank. He had been for a number of years, along with Art Giesege, the Vice President, and a gentleman by the name of Norm Meyer. In 1972 I came to the bank. In 1973 we opened up a branch on North Scott Street here in Napoleon, then following that in 1982 I became President of the Henry County Bank. We then opened up an office in downtown Liberty Center in the former Morrison Department Store building in downtown Liberty Center.
CW: I didn’t know Liberty had a department store.
BW: We converted that into a branch. Then in 1995 we purchased what was at that time The National City Bank. This building was located on the south west corner of Perry and Maumee. We opened up that branch on the South side in June of 1995 after extensive renovation. Each of our six area locations and in particular the branch on the South Side of Napoleon has the Maumee River theme – our heritage. In Liberty Center when you go to that office, on the wall it has the colors of the National Railroad Station.
CW: Yes the railroad is what helped make Liberty Center grow.
BW: Next to that is the Kestners and Morrison’s Department Store. When you walked in their store, they had a balcony. That is where the bookkeeping was at and the owner could overlook the store. We maintained that balcony and use that as an office. The balcony was on the second floor but it overlooked the lobby. And then our new office here in downtown Napoleon, which we had been planning for, the new office in downtown Napoleon, that was started back in the mid 1980’s. Then we had to acquire, over a period of 30 years the ground for that. We had to have a future plan available.
CW: You would need parking too.
BW: Through the years actually starting in 1987 up to about the mid 90’s we acquired several parcels of ground so from the future stand we had to do something. Obviously we did. The planning for the new main office of the Henry County Bank started in the 1990’s and then we started the actual construction in 2000. So from the actual planning which took around three years construction and another two and a half to three years, we were finally able to move to our new facilities here in 2006. Now it is almost 2012. The bank came to Napoleon, the actual footings that was in June of 1969 and at that time we were about 8 million in total assets. Today we are at 245 million assets. We have grown considerably. When we came to town back in 1969 we had about 24 employees at the bank. Today we have upwards of 80 people employed. We are definitely a community bank. We support all the school districts in Henry County plus other organizations and municipalities, and the various churches and so forth. A lot of our people have lived in Henry County and supported us for many years. This is my 40th year with the Henry County Bank. I have been an executive for 30 years. There is a lot of history in the bank, starting back in 1936. At the same time it has grown and we have been able to open up branches in Malinta and Liberty Center and in Holgate. And then we look at Napoleon with the schools and so forth.
CW: Was that in Napoleon?
BW: Yes, Napoleon High School. If you would stop and think of all the businesses that were in downtown. All the thriving businesses we had. All throughout the county we have thriving business communities. We had Conrad Shoes. We had Crahan’s Department Store. We had Knipp’s Clothing, Hahn’s Clothing, and we had Cash Quality, Gilbert & Herr. We had Bernicke’s Super Value. We had the Murray & Shaffer Grocery Store. We had Snyder’s Chevrolet. These were all local people.
CW: They were all nice businesses.
BW: We had the Napoleon Creamery. These were all local businesses. Then we had the local Spengler’s, which is still there today. Through the years that has been a family owned business. The Town Tap which was run by Chalky (Julian) Gilliland and Bob Downey. They were family owned. We used to have the Heller Memorial Hospital in downtown Napoleon. The other day I saw some pictures of downtown Napoleon and every parking space was taken and every building was occupied.
CW: The farmers used to come to town on Saturdays.
BW: Yes, Saturday was a very busy day. Going back into the 70’s when I first entered the banking business the bank was only open a half day on Saturday – which is what we still are today. Years ago Saturday was always a busy day. The farmers would come in to town and do their grocery shopping and banking and whatever else they had to do.
CW: The men would usually stop in at Spengler’s and have a beer.
BW: And we had the L.S. Dunbar Company that was a Mercury dealership but they also had Farmall tractors. They were a car dealership and they also had farm machinery. There are many others. When you look at other towns, we looked good. We have the Southside.
CW: Chief was located there for a while.
BW: Fruchey or Fruth, I am pretty sure was where the Henry Couny Bank is located on the Southside. It was built at that time by the Community Bank back in the 50’s. Prior to that there used to be a grocery store there. It was a locally owned family grocery store. Of course there was the G.C. Murphy store, a little five and dime store. Joe Lavins had a five and dime store. As we are talking more and more comes to mind. We had the Charles Company building.
CW: That was there for years.
BW: We can’t forget Thompson’s Jewelry Store. I can’t forget them. I married their daughter Joyce. They were in business there for years. The jewelry store was on the first floor and the Chamber of Commerce was on the second floor. Now the Chamber is on the first floor. They used to have the Tiny Tots Store, they used to have children’s clothing and so forth. We had the Western Auto Store and the New Yorker Store. We had the Idle Hour and The Palmer House Restaurant. Biddies Motel and Restaurant was located on the Southside, just think of all the locally owned businesses. These businesses had a close relationship to our community. They weren’t owned by somebody that didn’t have a close relationship with this community like the big box stores we have today.
CW: I look for a big change to come with the completion of Route 24 all the way to Toledo.
BW: Now with the Port to Port, which should be totally finished in 2012. This will change the whole complexion of Northwest Ohio. All the communities that are close to it, which we are right on 24. We are the only community between Ft. Wayne, Indiana and Toledo, Ohio that have two major highways right inside our community. We have 7 miles of Route 24 and Route 6, major highways going through our community.
CW: That is great!
BW: There will be a lot of traffic that comes in. There will be a lot of commerce that will be coming with that. It will change the graphics and geography if you will, in particular of Napoleon and also Henry County.
CW: I see Grand Rapids as a sort of an example of how communities might change as a result of the new highway. I think that there are now a lot of people that go to Grand Rapids now for entertainment. They may go to some of the unique little shops or they may just have lunch.
BW: You are correct. They are more of a unique specialized area. They have antique shops and so forth which is very different from what we had in the 40’s. 50’s, and on into the 70’s and 80’s. With the Port to Port we aren’t thinking about what we used to have. It is not unique to Napoleon. There are thousands and thousands of other communities in the same situation. We have to focus, or rejuvenate how to create a retail business atmosphere. It is very easy to say, but very hard to do. Now with the Port to Port though we don’t want people just driving by. We don’t want people to just drive by – we need to create Napoleon as a place of destination. We do have on the north side on Scott Street this business of Corvette Concepts. Terry Michaelis and his brother sell Corvettes world wide. They have been in business since 1972 when Terry Michaelis started his business. They sell Corvettes all over the world. They also have an operation in Auburn, Indiana. We have people coming into our community to see them. We have people coming in from overseas, specifically from Europe to see them. We have people coming from New York and Washington D C. They come specifically to buy the cars he has in stock. He acquires them obviously and resells these Corvettes.
CW: There are a lot of people coming into town to see the Harley Davidson motorcycles.
BW: They definitely do. That is another unique situation. That was started in the 20’s to 50’s and is a third generation operation. Who owns that now is Marvin Yagel’s son.
BW: We had Lloyd Franz’s Fruit Market and Produce. That was a thriving business for years. We also had the Walker Fruit Market. They were both located on old Route 6.
CW: How did it happen the airport got created?
BW: Originally J. R. Winters had his own airplane out there. There was a landing strip out there. Of course there on North Scott Street he used to have that metal building. He had an airport hanger there with his manufacturing plant. We had a fertilizer plant there also. On the west side of North Scott there was a turning around – a turntable for locomotives to change directions.
CW: That would be the area behind that was leveled to make way for the new Wal-Mart.
BW: I believe that is how the formation of the airport began. That is going back many years. The airport we have today is very vital to our community for our businesses like Tenneco, and other factories that are here. They use the airport for service so it is very important to have it here. They are also landing jets here. You think back 40 to 50 years ago you would never think that that an airport would be here. The airport is also very vital to our Campbell Soup Company here in town.
CW: You know, I remember this doesn’t have anything to do with the business community, but my husband’s nurse Mrs. Aderman flew his airplane here to Napoleon years ago.
BW: Her husband was a builder.
CW: They flew down to an Ohio State game. When they came back, of course it was starting to get dark. He kept looking out the window. She said to him “what are you looking for”? He told her that when he saw the river he would know where he was at. They both laugh.
CW: He landed out there where Charlie Bauman had his stockyards.
BW: That was another business I forgot to mention. Another one was Don Schuette. They were in busines for 50 to 60 years. He started out when they were selling the little 45’s and then the 78’s. Then we had Hahn’s Clothing.
CW: Were they on Washington Street?
BW: Yes, At one time they were on North Perry Street.
CW: Where was their original store?
BW: When I was in Junior High they used to be next to Hahn’s Clothing. Hahn’s was next to Crahan’s Department Store. It was on the East side of the street. There was an entrance where you could go out. There was a small walkway on the sidewalk. Hahn’s Clothing had their display in the window. You could walk behind it and there was another area which was where Schuette had his display in the window.
CW: Is that how he got started?
BW: Yes as I recall. There was also a barber shop. That was Tom Moore’s father. Then there was the grocery store right next to it. I can’t think of the name of it. Then there was a small restaurant on the orner. Mary Dennie had it for a number of years. I can’t think of the name of it. Maybe it was called The Corner Coffee Shop.
CW: Yes maybe.
BW: When I was a Junior in High School, Dick Henrich ran that. Yes I am pretty sure it was called the Corner Coffee Shop. We would go in there at lunch time when I was in High School. At that time you could leave school and go home to each lunch or go to a restaurant. This was the time the curly fries were first being sold. We would go in the restaurant at lunch time and it was always jam packed with students.
CW: Kids love curly fries.
BW: We could go down to the Idle Hour. They were the ones that first had the big pizza ovens. The ovens were up front and you could see the big pizzas coming out of the ovens. We could go to the Corner Coffee Shop and have a greasy hamburger for lunch or we could go to the Idle Hour for a pizza. I can think of all of those different types of businesses.
CW: Talking about high school, what do you remember about going to high school?
BW: My teacher was Mr. Buckenmeyer.
CW: Oh you mean Bucky!
BW: The teachers that I remember the most were Bucky, Mr. Mossing, Fred Church and Bud Schie.
CW: They were a team by themselves. Did you play for them?
CW: What do you remember about them as coaches?
BW: Those individuals were very disciplined. Some of the things they did then if they did this today would not be allowed. Another person was Mr Johnson.
CW: Yes, John L. Johnson.
BW: I have a lot of stories.
CW: Please tell us.
BW: Well this is when I was a Freshman. John L. was definitily disciplined. Out in front of the High School, you did not walk on the grass. The trees and lawn, everything was immaculate. You just did not walk on the grass. That is what the sidewalks were for. You would not run across the yard if you were late for school, because if you did and he saw you, you would be in deep trouble. I remember that. A coincidence that involved four or five guys, they were Freshmen. It was a building that was out on County Road 16. It was an abandoned building. It was an old building and it had been abandoned for years. What happened, there were some windows that were half broken out. This was around Halloween time. They got broken out. Several days after that Mr. Jackson reported what had happened. It was reported to the local authorities. Each one of the young guys were called into his office. Even though we all ran around together, I was not with them. I got called into the office. I told him I didn’t know anything about it. He asked me one more time and asked me if I was lying to him. I told him no and I was not lying to him. He said to me “yes you are”. With that answer I got a swat across my face. He told me that I was lying.
CW: Oh my!
BW: I have never forgotten that. My cheek burned for the rest of the day. Later on through the week he did find out that I had nothing to do with it. Anyhow he never apologized to me.
CW: As a kid you don’t forget that.
BW: I have never forgotten that. This was back in 1957 and I have remembered that all these years. A couple of years back Mr. Jackson would come in and talk to me oh once or twice a week. He was a member of the Elks. We would go and maybe play cards. It was kind of interesting because he remembered that too. He told me later on that he probably should have apologized to me. I told him that would have been a nice thing to do. I told him that I had never forgotton this. He told me that he hadn’t forgotten it either. That was his way some twenty five years later of apologizing.
CW: You know somebody dared my son Bill Winzeler to take the flag and march down the hall singing the anthem.
BW: I don’t doubt you at all.
CW: He did it and Mr. Johnson caught him. He never told us what happened to him.
BW: Again, you look at those four gentlemen and Mr. Jackson, they were doing things to really make us aware of things we would have to deal with in life. They were really helping us in later years. After High School I went on to college and married my wife – Peg Thompson (whose parents owned the Thompson Jewelry Store). We moved back here and I ran the Henry County Bank. That was in 1972. After a while these four gentlemen like Bud Schie, they were customers of ours at the bank. I thought it was kind of nice that they remembered me and our famiy and so forth. They did business with me. I don’t get to see them as much as I used to.
CW: It is nice that he is still around.
BW: He was out at the golf course this season. Of course I always watch Woody Hayes on TV.
CW: How many years was he at Ohio State?
BW: I have his picture here, but I can’t recall the actual time. He was there a good number of years. Bucky reminds me of Woody Hayes. We have good teachers today, but those four were very unique individuals here in our school system. We also had Mr. Fred Church. Even in the church (St. Augustine) here in back of me, he was the basketball and football coach also. He won the State basketball championship.
CW: Yes, Fred Church did. Bill can you summarize for me what your bank means to you and this community. Tell us about your plans for the future and how your education here in the Napoleon school district led to your banking career.
BW: This past August I celebrated my 40th year with the Henry County Bank. I began my career here as an installment officer on August. 5, 1972. Prior to that I worked at several other banks. I studied business finance at Defiance College and The University of Toledo and then began in the banking business with a position at Toledo Federal Home Savings and Loan in 1964. Fron there I went on to work at the State Bank and Trust Co. in Defiance and a bank in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. After Florida I moved my family back to Henry County where I began my career with the Henry County Bank. I became President and CEO in May of 1982, a position I had always aspired to. During my years overseeing the bank, my most memorable things happening is the transitions in technology and the planning and building of the new main office here on East Washington St. The transformation from the manual days to all of today’s technology changes the whole structure of banking. While the methods of banking have changed dramatically over the years one thing that will not change is the level of service we here at the Henry County Bank give. We still give service. We are a community bank. We focus on giving back to the community in any way we can. As a community bank we provide service and support the community and the community supports us. The planning and building project of the main office I am very proud of. This took several years to complete. In order to be able to do the construction, we had to acquire the ground around our building. These first steps took place back in the late 80’s. We wanted to be the pinnacle of rejuvenation for downtown Napoleon and all of Henry County. We chose to remodel instead of moving to a new building. All of this work was completed by local contractors. This rebuilding of the main office was a major undertaking for everyone here at the bank. Our main office was closed maybe four or five hours through the whole process. We here at the Henry County Bank are dedicated to helping Henry County grow and flourish. As I noted earlier the groundwork for economic revival has been laid with the Fort to Port project, as well as the new CSX Inter-modal in North Baltimore. We here at the Henry County Bank are very involved in that respect and will do all we can do to bring business and industry to Henry Count.
CW: Thank you very much Bill for your comments.
BW: You are very welcome.
END OF TAPE