Business Person of the Year 2011 – Runner-Up
Active in his community, small-town banker also has fingers in other pies, including writing, farming, marketing, and insurance.
Photo: Jeff Silker
Imagine creating an official account of Trimont, Minn. movers and shakers. Darwin Anthony’s name will be on the first page. There will be mention of his long career in banking and insurance, his agricultural pursuits, his hands-on leadership of numerous local non-profits and his fine-tuned knowledge of the community. There will be a second side to the page, one that describes the man who has written so many poems and narratives that his office shelves are lined with thick loose-leaf notebooks, one for every year since 1985, whose writings have appeared in magazines such as Farm and Ranch, Reminisce, Country and Birds and Blooms. The account will include the description of a man whose business is intrinsically interwoven with family, a man who approaches life’s endeavors with the perspective of the teacher he was a half-century ago.
“If you want to be successful, you must be creative, you must communicate, and you must be trusted and respected,” Anthony said. “I’ve worked really hard at all of those.” Having said that about himself, he would rather talk about his uncle’s John Deere Model A tractor (Poppin’ Johnny) that he restored and gave a new life on the historical farm show circuit, naming it for Uncle Ted. There’s also the 1964-1/2 Ford Mustang convertible he gave the same treatment, making it into a proper parade car.
For the record, Farmers State Bank of Trimont opened on November 23, 1912, and acquired a Dunnell branch in 1989. At the end of 2010, the bank had assets of more than $54 million. Anthony is a vice-president, director and co-owner of Farmers State Bank of Trimont. His son, John, is also a director, as is another family member, Leslie W. Peterson, the recently widowed husband of Anthony’s wife’s sister. Peterson also is the bank’s president.
“I’ve been in business with Les Peterson since 1960 and we’ve never had a cross word,” Anthony said. “I consider Les one of the best bankers in Minnesota.” Because of Anthony being age 75 and his partner in his 80s, the men have hired Michael Mulder as chief executive officer to provide continuity for the bank.
For many years, the brothers-in-law also owned and operated PetersonAnthony Insurance Agency, Inc., which they purchased from their father-in-law in 1962. They later sold it to Anthony’s son John and daughter-in-law Connie who together developed a Fairmont branch. Anthony and his wife retained five percent ownership. He continues to service customers, offering farm, crop, hail, home, auto, life, health, long-term care and personal umbrella policies with eleven companies.
“My wife, Bev, helped teach me family is very important,” Anthony said. “We’ve been married 52 years. I like to give credit where credit is due. I married one of the best financial managers and always include her in financial decisions. I really admire her judgment, which came from her parents.” The Anthonys met on a blind date during one summer wedged between college semesters.
As with the insurance agency, the banking connection began with Bev’s father, Alfred E. Peterson, who was employed at Farmers State Bank before buying it. But it was the coming of the next generation that led Anthony into banking.
“Bev and I were both teachers, and she was expecting our first child, so back in those days she had to quit teaching,” Anthony explained. “I had taught art and industrial arts for four years and banking seemed a good future. I took a cut in salary to do it, so it was a stressful time, with a new baby, a new job and a new house to pay for. But banking had stability and I knew it could grow.
“My father-in-law was really a mentor to me. He was confident and forward thinking, the kind of man you would want to work for. One of his biggest attributes was his love of family. He was a generous and kind man with both money and opportunity.”
Anthony began his banking career on July 1, 1960, working behind the counter, filing checks, etc. Waiting on the customers who came into the bank at least four times a month (in the days before electronic fund transfers) gave Anthony the opportunity to learn about the Trimont community. He later honed his knowledge of banking principles by completing project-based programs offered by the University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota. In 1995, he became a vice president of the bank.
“My goal has been to develop a level of excellence, to be known for being a good banker,” Anthony said. “There’s a real satisfaction that comes out of seeing people be successful and being a part of that.”
The insurance agency has always been located in the bank building on Main Street in this town of nearly 800 people. Thus Anthony has always handled both businesses throughout the day, as need and opportunity arose.
“As the agency grew, I spent more time there,” Anthony said. “We didn’t try to sell insurance to bank customers, but sometimes a bank customer wanted insurance. We bought and merged another insurance agency and then hired an employee who was with us for 27 years. I believe that if you surround yourself with good people, they make you look good.”
Another family enterprise is Anthony-Peterson Farm, 550-600 acres of soybeans and corn on the edge of Trimont. The farm, which also originated with Anthony’s father-in-law, produces 150 dairy heifers each year. Anthony employs a farmer to do custom work on an additional 400 acres that Anthony’s grandfather bought near Granada in 1883 for $6 an acre. But Anthony’s connection to the land goes even deeper.
“What really interests me is the environment,” he said. “Bev and I have a five-and-one-half acre wildlife refuge. We received the 2007 Martin County Outstanding Conservationist award from the Martin County Soil and Water Conservation District.”
It’s his connection to the land that gives Anthony an understanding of banking in the Trimont community.
“Farmers are our primary customers,” he said. “Farmers have to be on top of everything. They are mechanics, managers, financial experts and family men. We know agriculture at our bank and we are interested in having the most up-to-date services for our customers. Each employee is responsible for specific duties; for example, a CPA handles our compliance. Many times when people move away, they maintain their accounts here. With computers they can get financial information 24 hours a day.”
The technology may be cutting edge, but the bank’s advertising evokes a Norman Rockwell scene.
“We do it a little different than most banks. We tie the advertising into the community,” Anthony said, reaching behind him to the credenza for a loose-leaf notebook filled with the bank’s newspaper ads. (More about the credenza later.) Anthony writes and designs each ad. Each week, he takes his camera around the Trimont trade area to shoot the photo appearing in that week’s advertisement. There is no listing of loan rates or account values, no mention, in fact, of the bank except its name, address and the FDIC symbol at the bottom of each ad. Instead, every advertisement either thanks or congratulates a business, team, organization or person in the community. A reader leafing through the first few pages of the notebook learns of the accomplishments or the anniversary of the grain co-op, the local funeral home, a new seed corn dealer, the high school volleyball team and the fire department. One week, a bank customer’s 100th birthday was featured. Readers of the Martin County Star look for the bank’s ad to see “who’s who” that week in their community.
“This makes the public aware of the bank,” Anthony said. “We also advertise on the radio during high school basketball and football games, and we have a big involvement in the Martin County 4-H program, including the 4-H auction.”
Back to the credenza, where Anthony seamlessly blends the new with the nearly quaint. An electric typewriter shares space with two laptop computers and a stack of manila folders gives him easy access to information that does not yet have a permanent home on a hard drive. “When an insurance customer’s policy is in the hopper, I don’t want to take time to look it up on the computer,” Anthony explained.
The observer’s eye wanders from the credenza to the windowsill above it and notices a miniature version of Uncle Ted’s Poppin’ Johnny alongside a small wooden beam plow (like the full-size sod-breaking old plow Anthony bought at an auction). Farther to the right there’s a miniature doctor’s buggy. Its full-size version, also an auction find, sees parade duty along with the rebuilt Mustang. There’s no model of the Mustang, but an aqua 1957 Ford pickup (rescued from a tool bin) sits near the shelf corner, where a 90-degree turn leads to tractor models of various brands along with a rusted miniature locomotive that belonged to an uncle.
Like his office, Anthony’s daily schedule reflects relationships he has developed over a half-century in small-town banking and insurance. Arriving at his desk around 7:30, a.m. Monday through Friday, he leaves for the Monterey Bar and Grill at mid-morning.
“I see the same people there every day,” Anthony said. “Many are farmers, some are business people, others are retired.” Back in the office, he handles requests for articles he has written as well as insurance claims and requests for reviews. He spends his lunch hour at home with his wife before returning to his desk.
“I either do insurance or banking—usually just conversation and advice,” Anthony said. “Many people just stop in to talk; they don’t necessarily take my advice.”
Nevertheless, Anthony’s advice and labor have been a constant asset for many Trimont organizations. He serves on the Trimont Area Chamber of Commerce and was the Master of Ceremonies at last year’s banquet. As program chair for the Trimont Area Service Club, he arranges speakers and concerts. (He’s proud of his 1999 involvement in building a gazebo in the town’s park, where crowds of 100 to 150 attend eight free concerts each summer.) He also serves on his church council and has worked with STEP Inc., a program for mentally and physically challenged people. He has been a 4-H leader, a member of the Trimont School Board, a Fairmont Hospital Foundation member, and a board member of Heritage Acres, which is a Martin County historical museum.
The benefits of living in a rural community have been a half-century constant in Anthony’s life. He said, “I like what the community expects of me and my family. We have three children who turned out well. There’s a sense of excellence in our grandchildren, all of whom are active volunteers in the communities where they live. My philosophy always has been to let people know I’m honest, to work hard, to listen and learn, and to follow through. You just do what people expect of you.”
Land To Loans
Where did you grow up? On a farm outside Granada, the younger of two boys.
Favorite school subjects? English and history. I wanted to study art, but it was not available (until I went to the university). I had good teachers and really enjoyed school. My mother was a teacher.
Your advanced education? BA in industrial arts from Mankato State College (now Minnesota State University, Mankato) in 1957, with additional concentrations in business and art; University of Wisconsin Graduate School of Banking, Madison, (large banking concepts); Midwest Banking Institute, University of Minnesota, Morris (agricultural banking program).
Your earliest jobs? I learned to drive a tractor when I was seven, a Farmall Regular that had steel wheels and had to be started with a crank. The summer before my seventh grade, a neighbor hired me to throw bales behind a baler. I also helped another neighbor milk his cows on a regular basis. When he had to be away from his farm for about three weeks the summer before my ninth grade, he asked me if I thought I could milk the cows, do the cattle chores, feed and clean up after the hogs, cultivate the corn, put up hay and replace the wooden fence posts in the pasture. I decided to do it, as he trusted me enough to put his livelihood in my hands.
Family: Wife Bev; daughters Lisa and Kristin; son John; six grandchildren.
Recreation: Writing (the stories I tell are all true), drawing pen & ink sketches, painting landscapes, gardening, and visiting with family and friends.
What pleases you most: I enjoy meeting new people and tying that into business some way, working together.
Most valued possession: The bank and our home and farmland.
Most valued intangible: My family.
Three phrases that describe you: Community-oriented, interested in others, a true storyteller.
Alternate career or business: I can’t imagine. I love banking that much, I would try to get into it.