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City loses a friend and a leader

Oak Harbor’s own version of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” passed from the scene last week, leaving oldtimers to recall his impact on the little berg where he was the town banker.

Ray Cusworth died Tuesday, Jan. 8, at the age of 83, but he left behind many lasting memories that will stay with friends and family members for generations to come.

He was the friendly, small-town banker with a heart, who like the fictional George Bailey would loan money on a man’s word and his character, no need to process lengthy forms, do credit checks or get approval from higher-ups in the banking bureaucracy.

Cusworth worked for Everett Trust, the town’s only real bank, though Island Savings and Loan was in its infancy. He and his family moved to Oak Harbor in 1950, and for decades he was among Oak Harbor’s leading citizens.

“He was a very dedicated individual to his family, profession, and especially our community,” said Al Koetje, former Oak Harbor mayor and longtime insurance agent. “I’ve known him for umpteen years, he helped so many people with financial problems, both personal and business.”

“We all got money from him,” Koetje continued. “You could say to Ray you needed money, he’d say how much do you need, he’d ask why, and you’d sign a note — and it worked! He was the people’s banker.”

Wallie Funk, former editor and publisher of the Whidbey News-Times, came to town in the early 1960s with his partner John Webber, and they immediately needed money to operate the paper until they received payment for a previous paper they had sold in Anacortes.

“He was truly the friendly banker,” Funk said. “He did a great deal to help people establish themselves in business and so forth. He was like a father to me.”

A banker in Anacortes wouldn’t even loan Funk and Webber $2,000 to get their new enterprise running, but Ray Cusworth was much more trusting, or perhaps a much better judge of character.

“We needed $37,000,” Funk said. “We saw him in the morning and had it in the afternoon. He was just a decent human being.”

Koetje was particularly impressed by the amount of time Cusworth gave to the community through the Lions Club, Rotary Club, serving on the City Council, and leading the Navy League, among many other endeavors.

Funk said Cusworth helped found the local chapter on the Navy League in the 1950s and, working with the likes of Funk, Koetje and car dealer Don Boyer, helped make it “one of the dynamic Navy League councils in the entire country.” Cusworth was Oak Harbor’s Citizen of the Year in 1966.

The banker also had a happy home life with his wife Gay and three daughters, Suzie, Mary and Nancy, and was known for his love of the outdoors.

“He loved to fish and hunt, particularly with Don Boyer,” said Virg Hofkamp, who married Suzie Cusworth. One time the pair of hunters got snowed in above Enumclaw but managed to dig themselves out.

Courting one of the town banker’s daughters was a memorable experience for young Hofkamp.

“When I was dating his daughter it was kind of terrifying,” he said with a laugh, but he soon discovered that his future father-in-law was “a wonderful man.”

Before he and Suzie married in 1967 Hofkamp had to obtain her father’s permission, a prospect that made him nervous. He had to offer some proof of financial stability.

“I had to come up with a financial statement for the coming year,” he recalls. “I came up with one that had 50 bucks left over at the end of the year for emergencies.

“He said, ‘well, that ought to do it’,” and permission to marry was granted. Hofkamp went on to a long career with Puget Sound Energy. He is now retired.

Through the years, Hofkamp took a number of continuing education classes. One he remembers particularly was on business ethics.

“I’m not learning anything new here,” he thought to himself as the teacher was explaining ethics. “I’d already learned it from Ray. This is how you take care of your customers. He trusted them, he knew they were good for it, I’ve heard so many stories of handshake deals.”

A celebration of Ray Cusworth’s life will be held Friday, Jan. 18, at 2 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Oak Harbor.

A large community turnout is expected because, as Funk succinctly put it, “He was a good one.”

An obituary appeared in the Jan. 12 Whidbey News-Times. It can be found online at www.whidbeynewstimes.com.

Community Events, April 2014

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