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Bankers lead the parade

The two capital fellows at the head of the 4th of July Parade Monday will likely draw a lot of interest from onlookers deposited on the sidewalks of downtown Oak Harbor.

Barney Beeksma and Michal Cann between them represent 72 years of banking experience. Beeksma spent 40 years with Island Savings & Loan and its successor institutions, while Cann’s 32-years of banking have be capped by his last 13 years as President and CEO of Whidbey Island Bank.

Beeksma, an Oak Harbor native who’s lanky and vigorous at age 73, has played a leadership role in the Oak Harbor civic, business and church communities for decades.

Cann, 57, who enjoys touring on his Harley in his spare time, started his career in Montana but has been active in Whidbey Island leadership roles for well over a decade now.

Both expressed surprise at being named grand marshals of the Independence Day parade by the Rotary Club, but they’re ready for the challenge.

“I feel a little bit humbled,” Cann said.

“I take it as a great honor,” Beeksma said.

The Whidbey Island institutions headed by Beeksma and Cann have succeeded phenomenally over the years, giving local residents a place to deposit their money and see it loaned out to small businesses that in turn help the island economy thrive.

Anyone who banked on Beeksma or Cann from the early days profited impressively.

Beeksma said that when Island Savings & Loan started in 1960 the minimum investment in the bank was $1,100. Anyone who bet that amount on the bank’s future and did no further investing would be worth over $2 million today.

“It’s the power of compound (interest) return,” Beeksma explained.

By the time Beeksma retired in 2000, the bank that started in Oak Harbor had grown into InterWest Bank and eventually Pacific Northwest Bank with 57 offices and a value of over $3 billion and 600 employees. Recently, the bank was purchased by Wells Fargo, a national banking giant.

Whidbey Island Bank started about the same as Island Savings & Loan, but it was based in Coupeville. It too has seen rapid growth, especially since Cann took the helm in 1992. A $5,000 investment in the bank five years ago would have produced a 310 percent return to around $15,500 today. In Cann’s time the bank has grown from six branches to 19 and 160 employees of which 130 work on Whidbey. The bank’s headquarters building is now Oak Harbor, and it took up some of the employment slack when Pacific Northwest Bank was closed by Wells Fargo.

“We got some awfully good people from the Interwest system,” Cann said.

The U.S. Navy played a major role in the success of both banks, and not only by providing the biggest payroll by far in the county. Through the years bank leaders worried about possible base closure and its effect on the banking business and I don’t appreciate new taxes, probably more than most, but I do appreciate good roads.

“In the ‘50s nobody was convinced the Navy was going to stay here,” said Beeskma. When he was growing up in pre-Navy times, there were only 350 people in Oak Harbor. Because of doubts about the Navy, it was hard to get loans from the only bank in town, Everett Trust.

“You couldn’t get real estate loans from the outside banks,” Beeksma said.

That’s what convinced a group of businessmen to start Island Savings and Loan and a year later hired young Beeksma, a recent graduate of Whitworth College and Army veteran, to manage it. He went to work in a tiny portion of the building that now houses Zorba’s Restaurant.

“I took a flyer and said ‘let’s go’,” Beeksma recalled. “It’s all history now, but I had 40 years. It was a great career.” He rose to head a national banking association and held discussions with President Ronald Reagan.

Cann, a University of Montana graduate, arrived at Whidbey Island Bank after a stint with Valley Bank in Mount Vernon. He got here shortly after NAS Whidbey barely survived a scrape with the 1992 Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

Having seen NAS Whidbey on the BRAC list, even temporarily, convinced Whidbey Island Bank to operated differently. “We decided to expand outside Whidbey Island for the first time,” Cann said. A branch was opened on Camano, and today there are also branches in Stanwood, Mount Vernon and Bellingham.

The two veteran island bankers agree that the future of Whidbey Island looks brighter than ever.

“We’re sitting ideally - our biggest problem is traffic, but otherwise the sky’s the limit,” Beeksma said.

“The opportunities here are phenomenal,” said Cann.

Beeksma is a strong moral supporter of Whidbey Island Bank, even though the bank he helped start grew far beyond the borders of the island. He believes there will always be a place for a local bank, whatever its name.

“Community banking is not a name game, it’s a people game,” Beeksma said. “That’s the focus of community banking, it’s a relationship business, people want to talk to someone they trust.”

According to Cann, that’s exactly how Whidbey Island Bank operates and islanders have shown their appreciation.

“We’ve got 45 percent of the market on Whidbey Island in total deposits,” he said.

Such success helps explain why the two grand marshals will be smiling so broadly Monday morning as they lead the parade down Pioneer Way.

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