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Community leader Browne passes

Jack Browne was once known as "Santa Claus" to the kids who lived in his Wadena neighborhood.

The Wadena State Bank president enjoyed dressing up like Old St. Nick and passing out presents on Christmas according to Dr. Al Neitzke, his longtime friend and neighbor.

Browne died Monday in Rio Verde, Ariz., at the age of 84. Neitzke, who winters in Florida, was unaware of the passing of his old friend. During their last phone conversation Browne had assured him he was "good for a couple more years."

Browne bought the Wadena State Bank from his father, William "Bill" Browne and his partners in the 1950s and became a community leader in the years that followed.

"Jack has been good for the community and he's been a good friend," Neitzke said. "He was devoted to Wadena. I never heard Jack talk badly about anybody."

As a local banker, Browne became adept at sizing up the person asking him for a loan and knowing if they were a good risk. Browne was instrumental in helping to launch many Wadena businesses, including Russ

Davis Wholesalers. Gary Davis knew Browne as a fellow businessman and also as a friend.

"He was a dedicated banker and he was good for the community," Davis said. "From a personal standpoint he did a lot for us."

Davis, like Neitzke, also knew the fun side of Browne.

"He was a great golfer," Davis said. "He loved to golf and he did a lot of things for the golf course that went unseen. He was a Wadena boy through and through."

Browne served on the fair board, the hospital board and the golf board and was also a member of the Lions Club. He had the reputation of being a "tireless worker."

Browne was responsible for keeping the hospital in Wadena and helped with building of the Wadena Community Center. His commitment to farmers was profound.

Browne was already president of the bank when Luther Nervig, a partner in the Kennedy and Nervig Law Firm, arrived in Wadena.

"Jack was a very dear friend of mine for 40 years," Nervig said. "There are a lot of farm families residing on farms in this area because of Jack Browne."

Jeff Browne recalled that his father was as elated as the farmers when the area would receive a good summer rain.

"When we got a good rain he would say 'it's a million dollar rain,'" Browne said.

Browne sold the bank to his sons, Kip and Jeff, when he retired in 1995. Along with his wife he established the Jack and Alvida Browne Family Foundation which provides money to many community organizations and non-profit organizations within the community.

The Brownes' gift of $1 million to the establishment of the foundation has helped to spur many projects in Wadena since it began. The leadership role Browne played has inspired other Wadena residents to contribute what they could in making Wadena a better community. Many of their projects were actually collaborations.

"My dad loved banking and he loved the community and it was a way for him to give back," Jeff Browne said.