Not All Bankers Are Bad | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Not All Bankers Are Bad

Bank executives aren't the most popular kids on the block these days. Writer Ron Litke remembers some bankers that were actually pretty good people.

After the bad news about the golf tournament Northern Trust now says it will repay a $1.6 billion deposit from the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Plan “as quickly as prudently possible under the new guidelines.”

Maybe Barney Frank should stop the check, or hire a collection firm – or slap a Denver boot on the bank's front door.

Many financial leaders of today seem cold to the urgent realities. But it wasn't that long ago that some of the most prominent bankers and businessmen in Chicago were highly attuned people, sort of like many of us but with a LOT more money -- though you would never have known it from their modest and gentlemanly ways.

In the late 1970s, I worked alongside several of these quietly powerful folks as a clerk at the Newberry Library. They would arrive – usually by bus -- for volunteer work several days a week, and more after they retired. I knew of only one who had a driver – with a Buick LeSabre -- but he preferred the bus, or he walked from his Gold Coast co-op in a pressed suit and a four-in-hand tie knot.

The Newberry is a closed stack library -- meaning the books must first be requested and then brought to you by a page – and it's doubtful that anyone, including some staff, knew that their books were sometimes being delivered by a man who commanded one of the largest banks in the nation.

The late Chalkley Hambleton – a banker's name if ever there was – took his degree from Princeton University into the mailroom of Harris Trust and Savings Bank. He would become its president and, after retiring as vice chairman, showed up at the Newberry not only as chairman of our board but also to study and work with the scholars and staff in the Library's Center for the History of the American Indian. He did bibliography and other research, and every so often I saw him pushing a rickety cart with books for the reading room. It didn't dent his dignity and he said it was a way for him to get some exercise. I don't think he played golf.

The late David Dangler volunteered at the Newberry during and after four decades in the Northern Trust‘s Personal Trust division. He sometimes left the bank early to work at the Library, most of the time in the book conservation lab, wearing a white coat and looking like a dapper pharmacist.

Or he was elsewhere doing different things. I remember him helping to uncrate newly acquired books; this was sort of a special event he scheduled with other volunteer chieftains from companies such as Rand McNally who, like Mr. Dangler, just liked being around books.

And not the books that have to be checked according to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, created after the Enron catastrophe, that mandates public companies to provide financial information based in reality.

Mr. Hambleton and Mr. Dangler were exceptional people who just happened to be powerful bankers and had deep respect for the humanities they studied at the Newberry. It seems their successors are simply less human.

Music Button: Shirley Johnson, "You Shouldn't Have Been There", from the CD Blues Attack, (Delmark records)

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