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Walking In His Father's Footsteps

The Story of Jim Weed and The Eastern Colorado Bank

For literally decades, much has been written about the differences that exist between life in the city and life in the country. In many ways, these differences are not nearly as great as might be portrayed, for, at our core, people are people. Certain commonalities exist. We all grow up with a measure of aspirations and dreams for our lives. We are born into families with dynamics between parents and children, between brothers, between one generation and another. We become part of a community with relationships and roles that we fill. In short, we are born; we live, and we die, and, to varying degrees, the world is changed because of what we did and did not do while we drew breath. That is the nature of human existence.

At the same time, it is within those commonalities that real differences can be found, fashioned and formed by the forces that characterize where we live. The life of a teacher, a police officer, a doctor or mechanic is lived in a different way in a small town than it is lived in a city. On paper, the tasks and duties may appear very similar—may, in fact, be very similar—but apply those tasks to a living, breathing human being who is part of a small town and how those tasks are accomplished can look as different from their counterpart in the city as night is different from day.

The life of a banker in a small town reflects this idea, for the small town banker—especially in an agricultural community--is more, much more, than simply the person who processes financial transactions for the customers who walk through the door. Sometimes, he is privy to highly confidential information about the details of that customer’s life that, perhaps, some members of the customer’s family might not even know. In the course of a conversation, he might listen as the customer shares his deepest fears and concerns about what the future holds, and not just his own future but the future of his sons or daughters. In the course of making a decision, the small town banker might be given a glimpse into the inner details of a person’s life as it’s laid out before him on a ledger listing how and where resources are spent and when.

And while those things may also be true of bankers in a city, in a small town, there is one enormous difference. Many times, the customer who walks through the door is not just a customer. More often than not, the customer is also the woman who teaches his children or the man who coaches the school basketball team or the person whose farm he passes every day on the way home from work. That customer may be his friend or his neighbor or someone he’s known all his life. And, as such, the small town banker honors the role he plays. Even as he knows almost intimate details in the lives of others who surround him, he keeps those details to himself, sharing what he knows with no one for to do so would be to violate the trust that has been placed in him.

Such is the life of a small town banker. And the life of James R. Weed of The Eastern Colorado Bank in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado embodied that idea in spades.

James Weed, more commonly known as Jim or J.R., came into the world on March 27, 1943 as the younger of two sons born to Victor and Leona Weed. Several years before Jim was born, Victor, Leona and Lou, Jim’s older brother by 7 years, had moved from western Kansas to eastern Colorado, first settling in the small farming and ranching community of Arapahoe.

However, the Weeds hadn’t headed west to farm or ranch. They had headed west to fulfill Victor’s lifelong dream of having his own bank.

That dream wasn’t realized right away. Far from it. The first few years the family was in Colorado were spent working and saving in exactly that order. Working hard was a day in and day out expectation in the Weed family, and everything that could possibly be saved was “socked away”. As Lou described it, “Times were really tight during those early years. The folks had everything figured out down to the very last penny.” By the time Jim was born in 1943, Victor was about to make his move, which he did the following year.

As those familiar with the story know, in 1944, Victor sold the family farm for $8,000 and, along with $17,000 from investors, opened The Eastern Colorado Bank in Cheyenne Wells. At that point, the focus of the family shifted from doing all required to open a bank to doing all required to keep the bank open and successful. Despite having two boys at home—one who was 8 years old and one who was barely more than a year—Victor and Leona were “always working”, focused on the bank where Victor was President and Leona did taxes to provide a second revenue stream in case things unexpectedly went south.

“The bank always came first.” That is the phrase used almost word for word by both Lou and Greg, Jim’s son.

When he was of age, Jim began school at Sacred Heart Catholic School. With both parents working every day all day, both Jim and Lou were largely raised by a small group of different women in the community. Lou had an abundance of chores to do at home and largely fended for himself. But for Jim, who was barely a toddler, the experience was somewhat different.

As Greg describes his father’s childhood, the demands of the bank become apparent in very real terms. “Grandpa and Grandma were always working, so Louie and my dad were raised, really, by housekeepers and babysitters. Dad had friends that he hung out with, too… but that was his life. He hung out with friends or other families, and he had his brother.” Even that changed for Jim. In 1954, Lou went away to college in Fort Collins, leaving Jim essentially home alone. He was eleven years old.

Sacred Heart Catholic School only went to the eighth grade, so, in 1957, Jim transferred to Cheyenne Wells High School. Transition from middle school to high school is a significant step for any young boy, but what happened a few months later is almost unfathomable. In January of 1958, Jim and Lou’s mother was killed in a car accident.

Lou, who had gotten married, returned to Cheyenne Wells with his wife and their brand new baby and immediately went to work with Victor at the bank. With a brand new baby and all the demands of his job, Lou’s time was consumed with the circumstances. This left Jim still on his own, perhaps even more so than before. .

But that changed during Jim’s senior year in high school. While Jim was on “senior sneak”, Victor married Betty Gentry, a woman who soon held a special place in Jim’s life. “Dad and Betty had a special relationship,” Greg says. “She became a wonderful friend and stepmother to my dad. But, before that, Dad basically went through middle and high school…alone. He didn’t talk about those early years much, though,” Greg says. “Except, when he left, I don’t think he wanted to come back. He saw how hard his parents worked, and he didn’t want that.”

After graduating in 1961, Jim went to Northwestern Junior College in Sterling for two years and then transferred to the University of Denver where he graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration. After graduating from DU, Jim attended DU Law School for a year.

By then, the year was 1966. The war in Viet Nam was just beginning to heat up, and Jim, feeling he needed to do his part, enlisted in the Navy. “He told me he could go in as an officer,” Greg says. “And if he went into the Navy, it was a way he could serve,” Greg chuckles, “without getting shot at.”

1966 was a big year, for that was also when Jim met Mary Louise Mead, who became his wife on December 27, 1967. For the next two years, Jim and Mary lived in California, first in Long Beach, where Jim was stationed at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, and then in San Diego, where Jim was stationed at the Naval Base. While in the Navy, Jim served as the Navigator on the Naval Repair Ship USS Manatee and the Oil Supply Ship USS Jason. He enjoyed the Navy and considered staying in but ultimately felt it wasn’t a stable life for raising a family. Consequently, after receiving multiple commendations for his service, Jim received an Honorable Discharge in 1969 and, along with Mary, made the decision to return to Cheyenne Wells and work with his father and brother at the bank.

For the next 15 years, Jim worked alongside Victor and Lou in a job he truly enjoyed. Any reluctance vanished, replaced by the deep joy he felt in helping others and being part of a small agricultural community. And then, in 1985 at the height of some of the most difficult banking years anyone had known, Victor passed away from a heart attack. In that single, tragic moment, the transition from father to sons was made, leaving Lou, as President, and Jim, as Vice President, responsible for keeping The Eastern Colorado Bank going on their own.

When asked what he remembers of his grandfather, Greg has nothing but good memories. “He died when I was fifteen,” Greg says, “so I didn’t get to know him as an adult. But it was Grandpa who taught me to drive and took me out to the ranch. Dad was always working at the bank, so it was Grandpa who did those things with me.”

And so, the generations continue.

Jim and Mary had three children together: Greg was born in 1970; Amy, in 1973, and, Megan, the youngest, in 1976. Greg describes his father in broad but appreciative terms. “He had a good sense of humor—he could always make people laugh,” he says. “Of course, he worked really hard, just like Louie and my grandfather. And he had high expectations of us. He wasn’t hard on us—he didn’t get mad very much. Even when I did the crazy stuff kids do in high school, he never got really mad. Sometimes, he even sort of laughed. But he expected us to work hard and do well. And, whenever he could get away, he’d come watch us compete in sporting events. I think he enjoyed that a lot.”

But what Greg remembers most of his father was how devoted he was to the bank. “He went there every day,” he says. “Every single day. He only took a vacation because he had to.” As Greg explains it, anyone who works at a bank has to be gone for at least two weeks a year because, in that time, if the employee is doing something wrong, it will show up on the books. “We loved it when he had to take vacation,” Greg recalls. “We’d go to Oregon a lot--that’s where my mom is from--so, we’d go there for a week or two, and we loved it. That was the time when we got Dad to ourselves.”

There is great truth to the old saying that “the only thing constant in life is change”, and that was a truth Jim discovered in the most profound way. It was in March of 1998. Jim had gone to Colorado Springs to visit his stepmother, Betty. While there, he suffered a massive stroke.

The initial prognosis was very bad; the doctors didn’t expect Jim to survive. But, in the first sign of a tenacity that would have him defying all expectations for years, Jim, somehow, came through. But his challenges were far from over, for the stroke had left him significantly disabled. As a result, Jim spent the next three months in rehabilitation, learning to walk again. By September of that year, Jim was back working at the bank. “He always believed he was going to get better,” Greg says. “Always.”

Yet another significant change was on the horizon, and it was one that would impact the entire Weed family. In 1999, after working at the bank for forty years, Lou made the decision to retire. With Jim physically unable to serve as president, Brett Legg stepped up, and he and Greg served in the top positions.

For the next fifteen years, Jim never faltered in his belief that he would get back to where he was. “And he’d improve. He would,” Greg says, with no small amount of respect and wonder in his tone. “He’d get stronger, and he’d even get to where he could walk with a cane. But then, he’d have another stroke and end up back in the wheelchair.” Greg pauses for a minute, remembering. “And he still came to work every day. Every single day. Maybe he wouldn’t stay long. Some days, he came in just long enough to say hello to everybody and see what was going on. But, even after he was living at the nursing home, he still came to the bank.”

And that intense commitment to keep going served Jim at an equally important personal level, as well, for, during those years, Jim was able to see all of his children married and to know all of his eight grandchildren. Suffice it to say, that’s quite an accomplishment for any man, let alone a man who had beaten such enormous odds.

All stories eventually come to an end, and the change in Greg’s voice signals its arrival. “He came to watch a softball game, and it was delayed because of the wind,” Greg says softly. “Dad said he didn’t feel good, so he was going to go home. He said he couldn’t breathe. He thought it was the wind, so…he left. Not even fifteen minutes later, I got a phone call that he’d died. Just like that, he was gone. And that changed everything.”

Jim passed away due to congestive heart failure on June 13, 2013.

In reflecting on his life, Greg speaks of how his father had a philosophy that, as CEO, Greg follows to this day. “He used to say ‘hire the right people for the job, train them well and then get out of the way and let them do their job’. He used to say that all the time.” When asked about regrets, Greg only has one. “My dad did a lot of different things at the bank, but he never got to be president,” he says. “When my grandfather died, Louie became president. When Louie retired, that should have gone to my dad, but his health wasn’t good enough.” Greg stops for a moment and looks at his desk, nodding his head as he fights the emotion that’s in his voice. “He got cheated. It wasn’t fair that things turned out that way. But that’s the way life is sometimes. Isn’t it.”

And with that, Greg Weed closes the notebook before him, grows quiet and folds his hands.