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Banker Browne and early banking days

William Jerome Browne, known by many as Banker Browne, was born on July 4, 1881 at Rock Island, Ill. to William and Isabel Whitton Browne, one of six children. At an early age the family moved to St. Paul where William went through school.

At age 18, Bill answered an ad in the Minneapolis paper for a position as a secretary at a private bank owned by Newton Smith at Hancock, Minn. He was hired at a salary of $18 per month, the duties including janitorial work and firing the wood heating stoves. A short time later because of good performance his salary was increased to $25 per month and soon was promoted to cashier at the munificent salary of $35 per month.

At 21, Bill was named as the president of the bank at a salary of $75 per month. During this period he married Francis Sandschulte a bank employee. They were married at Rock Valley, Iowa in 1908.

This resulted in producing nine children with eight surviving to adulthood. They were Gertrude who married Joseph Benda, Elizabeth (Betty) who married Erwin Elkjer, Isobel who married Adrian Winkel, Mary Ann who married Lloyd Wruck, William Jr. who married Vera Kopp, Donald who married Catherine Leary, Dorothy who married William Spang and John (Jack) who married Alvida Berg.

In 1915, Bill, with his wife and an ever-growing family, moved to Wadena and accepted the cashiership of the Merchants National Bank at 123 South Jefferson. At this time he bought the house of Frank Field at the corner of South Jefferson and Franklin Avenue SW which was his home for the rest of his life.

Being an entrepreneurial person and determined to get ahead in 1917, he joined with F. E. Frisbee from Sheldon, Iowa to organize the Wadena County State Bank with Frisbee as president and Bill as cashier.

The Wadena County State Bank had purchased the lease held by George N. Breher & Co., on the building at 209 South Jefferson and anticipated taking possession about July 1. Browne announced that they would open the new bank for business in the old Kingsley Dray Building just as soon as the safe arrived, which had been shipped from St. Paul (12 Bryant Avenue SE, Wadena in 2010). Those quarters would be necessarily crowded as they were not suited for the banking business but that two or three months would be consumed in making alterations in the Breher building. Browne further stated that they had taken a long term lease on the building and would remodel it thoroughly for banking purposes, putting in a new front and otherwise improving the premises.

The bank was incorporated on May 24, 1917 as the Wadena County State Bank. The incorporators were F. E. Frisbee of Sheldon, Iowa, H. F. Frisbee of Hancock, C. H. Johnson, Fred E. Gores, Frank H. Gores and W. J. Browne of Wadena. The bank was capitalized for $30,000 dollars which was divided into 300 shares at $100 each.

In 1922, W. J. Browne became president of the bank and held this position until 1970 when his son Jack succeeded him. Upon the death of Frank H. Gores a few years later Joseph Otte, the cashier of the Bank of Bluffton was hired as cashier.

In 1932 when President Roosevelt declared the banking holiday during the Great Depression, the Wadena County State Bank survived with flying colors and was only closed one day, a confirmation of the sound banking principles employed by Browne.

Other officers during the ensuing years were Fred E. Gores, Frank E. Breher and Jesse Aldrich all local businessmen.

William Browne was always very prominent in Wadena affairs. He was an organizer and charter member of the Wadena Lions Club, serving as vice president, and then elected president in 1923, participating in many events over the years. In 1917, he was the chairman of the committee of the Commercial Club on reorganization and in 1918 served as its president. During this time he also served on a committee involved in investigating and planning for paving Jefferson Street and installing a white way system to light it which at that time was Third Street. In 1920, he was listed as one of the contributors for the formation of a new baseball club for Wadena, was also city treasurer and elected to the school board. In 1921, the paper noted that W. J. Browne, serving as Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus of Wadena, presided as toastmaster for a Knights of Columbus Day in Wadena playing host to about 350 visiting Knights. In 1922, it was noted that he was the speaker at a banquet for the boys basketball team. He was active in the founding and continuation of Fair Oaks Lodge, the tuberculosis sanatorium, and for many years headed the Christmas Seal fund raiser for Tuberculosis in Wadena County.

In 1924, Browne was the chairman of a committee to investigate the forming of a country club. He attempted to form a group to solicit memberships but didn't meet with great success. In 1927, he was elected treasurer of the newly founded Wadena Country Club on the site of the present White Tail Run course. He developed an avid interest in the game and seems to have passed it along to his sons and grandsons. Later that year it is mentioned that he traveled with a group of Wadena golfers to Park Rapids for a golf outing.

In the late 1920s and 1930s he served as treasurer of the Wadena Library board. He was a member of the group of Wadena business men who took over the operation of the Wesley Hospital when it was floundering in the early 1940s and continued on this board until the 1960s. His interest was always in what was good for the advancement of Wadena and Wadena County.

Over many years he was a generous, faithful worker and contributor to St. Ann's parish as was his wife Frances.

In 1957, a big project was developed when they built a new banking facility at 124 First Street SE featuring a bank of new design and adding new services and customer accommodations. It was at this time that the bank name was changed from Wadena County State Bank to Wadena State Bank.

In 1970, William turned over the presidency to his son Jack, who he had been grooming for the position since the early 1950s.

In 1980 under Jack's guidance, the present structure at 304 First Street SE, Wadena was built and in recent years being completely remodeled in a very modern and efficient mode. He ran the bank operation for many years as the executive vice president while his father remained as president up to the time of his death, although not taking an active interest after the middle 1950s. Jack in turn sold the bank to his sons Kip and Jeff in 1994. They are operating the bank in 2010.

William lost his beloved wife Frances in 1963 but continued in his own home until his death in 1970.

He dedicated his life to his family and to the town which he lived in. As his son Jack later said, "Wadena was very good to me and I would like to do something as pay back." I presume he may have gotten this thought from his father.