A tip of the hat to Gilpins

Friday’s purchase of what used to be Iola Bank and Trust by Great Southern Bank of Springfield, Mo. brings to mind how much a single family can do over three generations for a small rural community like Iola.
Iola Bank and Trust was founded in 1944 when Claud and Helen Gilpin bought the bank from Jess C. Benson on Aug. 17. The bank was owned and managed by Claud, Howard, Jim and Ken Gilpin from that point forward to 1990 when the bank was merged with a bank in Paola and TeamBank was eventually formed. Ken later left TeamBank to move across the street and take the helm of Community National Bank.
Gilpin was retained as president with the change of ownership, but has told good friends that it took him many years to make peace with himself over supporting the merger, which he came to realize was a tragic mistake.
It has been my privilege to serve on the board of directors of the bank under Howard, Jim and Ken. All three were outstanding citizens, as Jim and his brother remain.
“Outstanding” needs elaboration. Howard must have considered Iola as a business partner. When fledging industries started up here he went out on a limb to help them over the rough beginning days. He practically lived at the Red Fish Boat Co. (later IMP) as it grew from nothing into a viable business and at one time hired hundreds.
Because he thought it was his duty to risk his and his family’s money to build the town, he sometimes ran the bank as though it were a venture capital firm. When they stumbled, his gambles cost him big time. When oil dropped down to $10-plus a barrel in the early 1980s, production from the shallow eastern Kansas deposits fell off a cliff. Iola Bank and Trust nearly tumbled after it. The oil rigs the bank had loaned money on were worth little more than the price of scrap.
The Gilpins and the bank survived and prospered again. Uncowed, Howard continued to divide his time between building Iola and building his bank. He played a key role in helping the industries which now form the backbone of Iola’s economy locate here and grow.
There must be a public service gene. Or perhaps the determination to be of use is learned around the dinner table. Whatever, Jim followed in dad’s footsteps. He became president of Mid-America, Inc. (now SEK, Inc.) the regional industrial development association and has been on the executive board of Iola Industries, Inc. for decades. He is a stalwart in the First Presbyterian Church, president of the Iola Rotary Club and, by the way, a successful banker.
The Iola chapter of TeamBank was the strongest of the 17 branches. It made money every year. The loans on its books all performed as scheduled. The staff worked as a team. A happy team.

THIS IS NOT an obituary. Jim Gilpin is very much alive with half a lifetime of service left in him. Great Southern not only got a bargain when it bought TeamBank at a fire-sale price but also is fortunate to have Jim and his capable crew, who can keep right on making money and serving Iola without missing a beat.
The debt communities like ours owe to families like the Gilpins is immeasurable. Every once in a while, we should tell them so.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.