Russell loses a strong community leader

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

RUSSELL -- Russell is a sadder place today.

Dean Banker, a long-time community leader, died Monday. He was 86. His funeral was Saturday.

Friends said Banker was known for his quick wit, always ready with a joke or a story to tell.

"He was a wonderful friend," said B.L. Schulz, who first met Banker while both lived in Kansas City. Schulz was going to dental school, while Banker was learning the retail trade at a store before joining his family's business.

"He was outgoing, loved to tell stories, loved to talk, laugh," said Schulz, who moved to Russell after dental school. "He really had a bubbly personality."

Banker joined his father in the family business, L.W. Banker Mercantile, a retail clothing store started by Dean's grandfather, Lou Banker, in 1881. He worked at the store for 48 years.

"It was one of the main stores here in Russell," Schulz said.

Cecil Witt, Russell, retired from farming and the oil business, said the Banker store was an important part of downtown.

"It was kind of a cornerstone, anchor for Russell's downtown area for a long time," he said.

Fritz Waymaster graduated from Russell High School in 1945, two years after Banker did. Schulz, who later owned a bowling alley in town, said Banker "took a lot of pride in the city of Russell."

"He was a ramrodder," Waymaster said. "He got something started, he finished it."

Waymaster added Banker was "very outgoing, always had a joke."

Banker was involved in several community organizations; one of his favorites was the Russell County Historical Society. He was involved with that organization until just recently, said Kay Homewood, chairman of the board.

"He was one of the members of our earliest Russell families, dating back to the 1800s," Homewood said. "He was a walking, talking reference book of Russell history."

Banker was instrumental in founding the Oil Patch Museum in 1983, Homewood said.

"It was dedicated to all the men working in the oil fields," Homewood said.

Homewood said Banker also was heavily involved in the purchase and renovation of Gernon House, the oldest stone house remaining in Russell.

It was built by city founder Nicholas Gernon.

Banker and is wife, Aldean, gave tours at the house dressed in period costumes.

Homewood said Banker always referred to his wife as "my bride."

"He and his 'bride' ... would introduce themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Gernon, and they would do the entire tour in first person," Homewood said. "If somebody would ask a question that didn't fit the period, he would just say, 'I don't understand that.' "

Eventually, however, Banker's personality would take over.

"The real Dean Banker would come through somewhere along the line, with his quick wit and jokes," Homewood said.

Banker also was good friends with Russell native Bob Dole, a former U. S. Senator, vice-presidential and presidential candidate. Dole used to model for Banker's department store while he was in high school.

"They were close enough (friends) that they could call each other and talk any time of the day or night (if) they wanted to," Homewood said. "... They go back a long ways."

Schulz said Banker, a U.S. Army veteran, was a prisoner of war in World War II, captured by the Germans. But Banker didn't talk much about it, Schulz said.

Instead, it was the laughter and jokes Banker was known for by one and all.

"He loved to tell a story," Schulz said. "He was always happy."

Now, Banker's friends will keep him alive in their memories.

"He'll be missed by me, I know," Schulz said. "I'm sure he'll be missed by all the old-timers in Russell, because he was such a friendly and outgoing man."