CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Glenville's "Jimmy Stewart Banker" Never Needed A Bridge Loan From An Angel

By Jack Cawthon 2008

Until Jimmy Stewart comes around again at Christmas time, as sure as Santa Claus, in his ill-named "It's a Wonderful Life," there isn't much good to say about most bankers at the moment. The country is in a financial mess brought about by what else but greed of untold proportions.

Scrooge, who also is featured every Christmas in all his money-clutching ways, wasn't gambling with other peoples' money, but only lusting after his own however ill-gotten hoard and may appear saintly even in Christmas present compared to those gamblers in the money temples of today.

While I'm not much inclined to the weepy plot of Jimmy Stewart and his struggles with a failing financial institution, although that is the norm nowadays, I do look with remorse on the loss of a banker who might have been a model for Jimmy's movie.

Our own Gilmer County native, Jack Stalnaker, could have given Jimmy a good run for his money and have come out ahead, as he never would have been found on a bridge over the Little Kanawha pondering the bleak water and ready to end it all due to a failing bank.

Jack Stalnaker helped untold people, not only in his banker role, but as a good, decent human being. I became aware of him personally while a teenager in Glenville where he worked at the local Ford garage. He called me in one day and told me to have my dad come in, which I did.

Jack knew of our limited financial circumstances and helped my dad apply for a pension through the Veterans' Administration. I'm certain that many other people received such help, which was given freely and quietly.

Jack's move from the Ford agency was to the Kanawha Union Bank, a stalwart institution headed by the Arbuckle family. My own experience with that bank began at birth when I was given the middle name of Duane, in honor of Duane Zinn, a long-time employee of the bank.

I can remember going into the bank at a very tender age and having my dad inform Mr. Zinn of his unknown honor and being rewarded, not with money, unfortunately, but with a little notebook and pencil, which to a kid from Barbecue Run was still a treasure not to be sniffed at.

Jack Stalnaker later headed up that bank. But at a far different time than now. I suppose I viewed that bank, having been named for a banker there, as my shining Gilmer County beacon when I moved out of the county into sin-filled Charleston, and later, to sin of a higher institutional level in Morgantown.

I had received a college scholarship from the bank that supplemented my limited means to attend Glenville State College and from that bank obtained my first loan to buy a used car. Ernest Lee Arbuckle was the head cashier at that time, and although he knew I was an honest young man, he nevertheless instilled upon me the provision in no uncertain terms that I must repay the loan.

Ernest Lee died a short time back, having left the bank many years earlier and some of my most prized possessions came from a sale of his personal property in Glenville back in the 80s, much of it dealing in some fashion with the bank—except for the money itself.

What a difference the years have made in banking! When Jack Stalnaker took control, in a manner of speech, as the patriarch John Arbuckle never was far away and his ghost may still wander the institution, the government had not fashioned the so-called Patriot Act.

I remember calling Jack from Morgantown and telling him I needed a loan to buy a car. He told me to choose the car, write a check, the check would be covered and in my next trip to Glenville I could fill out the paper work.

What a contrast to today!

I would first have to appear in person and prove who I am and then fill out mounds of paper. I couldn't believe the paper work required in a recent banking transaction, most of it to thwart terrorists such as me.

All good things must end, including banking monuments and the people who go with them. For years the Kanawha Union Bank was centered in ownership by only a few people. But sometime in the late 70s stock in the bank was offered to the public in limited amounts.

Jack saw that I was on the list and I was determined to obtain the few shares available. It took some effort on my part to find the money, but that was a proud moment when I felt that along with my name I now had a more solid relationship with the bank.

But times were changing. The Kanawha Union Bank entered one merger only to be grouped in another, eventually under control of United Bank. Jack, as I recall, retired before the United merger, but he still kept a decided presence in the bank, where I would often see him. While his role in active banking may have ended, his service to the people of the county certainly didn't.

He had always been active in helping settle estates and advising and handling the difficult decisions that must be made. All of this was done freely and without fanfare. His work with veterans' affairs was also all part of his daily life.

The large brick structure housing the Glenville bank still exists as a symbol to me of my ties to my home of many years ago. The building may stand for many more years, but a building is only a building without the people to give it warmth and meaning. I still feel proud of my ties to the bank and my continued banking through it, but there is something that can never be replaced by the loss of such people as Jack Stalnaker.