Wright: Banker & Rodeo Roper

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Bob Wright: Banker and Rodeo Roper

For any of us who have been around the community for a while, STAR Financial Bank has been an integral part of the business of Madison County. From Upland Bank to First National Bank to STAR Financial, Bob Wright has seen it all.

His father, Selah Wright, was born and raised in Upland, Indiana, the tiny community that is home to the Taylor University Trojans and Ivanhoe’s Ice Cream.

Selah heard that the bank at Fairmount, which had a branch in Upland, was going to close. Bob remembers, “My dad felt that our little town needed a bank, so he got his partners from the Marion Trucking Company to join in an investment and, in 1943, Upland Bank was born. He bought the branch and the deposits for $28,000.”
Bob Wright had two brothers who both attended Taylor University. Bob, himself, attended for one year and then decided to help at the bank. A Mr. Reynolds, the head of the bank, persuaded him to stay on at the Bank instead of returning that fall to the Taylor campus.

“He told me, ‘You don’t need to go back. Professors can’t teach banking.’”

That was 66 years to the day of the writing of this article, August 2, 1952, and Bob Wright has been in banking ever since.

Bob graduated from Jefferson Township High School, (now part of the Eastbrook consolidation) and at 18 years old began working for Upland Bank. Mr. Reynolds was the Cashier.

“In those days the Cashier actually ran the bank. If you referred to the President of the Bank back then, you were talking about what we would call the Chairman of the Board now.”

After a couple of years with the bank, Bob was asked to take more responsibility in the business. Four days later, Mr. Reynolds died. At 22 years old, Bob Wright found himself running the Upland Bank.

“We had two accounts; savings passbook and checking. All accounts were posted to a ledger either by hand or by typewriter. Then we got a Burroughs posting machine. We would post balances to the customer’s passbook and then our own ledger for balancing. We filed checks in the vault.”

One change Bob has seen is the increased physical security in handling cash. Either he or Mr. Reynolds would make a trip to pick up cash in their own vehicles. He admits to being a bit nervous about such a dangerous procedure only a few years removed from the antics of such notorious bank robbers as John Dillinger.
Bob served the Upland community from 1952 to December of 1956. The same group of investors purchased the Bank of Shirley and he ran that bank for over eight years.

He vividly remembers getting started in the banking business in Anderson and Madison County.

“Before my dad passed we acquired the First National Bank at Elwood. Back then, you needed to have a presence in the county seat if you wanted to be successful, so he felt we should start a branch in Anderson.”
With an eye to the future, the group applied to have their Bank Charter moved from Elwood to Anderson. They chose the sparkling new Southdale Shopping Plaza to set up shop. Within a short time, Anderson annexed the Southdale Plaza area and First National Bank was part of the Anderson business landscape.

In 1966, First National Bank broke ground at their current location at 8th and Main Street in Anderson, purchasing the grounds through Howard Webb Real Estate.

Any conversation regarding the history of First National Bank and STAR Financial can’t get too far without mentioning Anderson icon Carl Erskine.

Bob was in San Francisco around 1964 for a bank convention when, during a conversation with a local banker, discovered that the bank had a business relationship with San Francisco Giants Hall of Fame Outfielder Willie Mays.

“I woke up the next morning and made a call back to my dad. It occurred to me that Carl Erskine was recently retired from the Dodgers and living in Anderson. We met Carl in the old Cafeteria of the YMCA and asked him to represent the bank in the community. At first, it was a part-time arrangement but eventually he became president of the bank. We worked together for 33 years.”

With the advent of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, Bob and his investors began buying up many smaller banks, including ones in Kokomo, Marion, Muncie and Columbia City. Around 1985, First National Bank changed its name to STAR Financial but retained the same small-town banking feel that Selah Wright fostered back in Upland.

Surprisingly, Bob Wright, the suit-and-tie banker, has also been a rodeo calf roper and life-long horse aficionado.
He remembers, “When I was three years old my grandfather put me on workhorses on our farm in Upland. My mother came out one day and found that I had gone to sleep in the saddle. She nearly passed out. She pulled me off that horse and said never again. However, that began my love of horses.”

When he was around 14 years old, Bob got his first horse; a spotted black and white. He remembers riding that horse bareback jumping creeks and dodging limbs until a collision with a branch knocked him off his horse and unconscious for three days.

Bob and his growing family moved to Shirley to run the bank there. He and his wife took a trip out west and found themselves at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo.

“Calf roping fascinated me. Guys like Jim Harrison, and Clarence Cox. They were some of the first calf ropers in Indiana. Tommy Chapman of Markleville lived four miles away. We got together and there it started. He taught me how to rope.”

Bob roped at the Indianapolis State Fair Rodeo, Wyoming, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois and Wisconsin. He even roped on the island of Kauai. He owns an 800-acre ranch in Oklahoma and still goes there twice a year.
He speaks glowingly of his large and expanding family.

“I have six children, (three boys and three girls), 22 grandkids, 34 great grandchildren with one to come, and four grandchildren married last year alone. Christmas gatherings are like a small convention with anywhere from 60 to 80 people.”

It doesn’t take my prompting to get Bob to speak of the future of Anderson and Madison County.

“Anderson, today, is part of the Indianapolis metro area. We all understand that. My point is our proximity is important. As Indianapolis expands it can only help. With I-69, it’s a natural fit to be part of that region. We’ve done very well from an industrial standpoint, particularly in the Flagship area. Hoosier Park has been important to keep people coming to Anderson.”

“We have a good future if we continue to be aggressive. We have good businesses. Perhaps we may still be in reconstruction, but I think our future is bright,” he said.

“The reservoir appears to be something for the future with boating and water activities. It seems to be a great possibility.”

Posted Aug. 2018

“Our community is what we make it. If we want to be negative that’s what our community will be. If we’re positive that’s what we will be.”