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Banking on Retirement

Wisniewski: Community banking involves character, trust and knowing people

December 30, 2009
By Kevin Sweeney Journal Editor

NEW ULM - John Wisniewski didn't listen to his father very well.

Wisniewski, who grew up in Foley, recalled Tuesday what his father once told him.

"My grandpa was a banker. My dad was a banker. My dad told me, 'Whatever you do, don't be a banker, especially in a small community.'"

Article Photos

Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
John Wisniewski (right) chats with Florian Dittrich during a day-long open house at Alliance Bank Tuesday. Wisniewski is retiring at the end of the year after 27 years as bank president in New Ulm.

When the year ends on Thursday, Wisniewski, 66, will officially retire after 27 years as president of the Alliance Bank in New Ulm. So much for listening to fatherly advice.

Wisniewski went into the Navy for three years after graduating from St. Cloud State University.

"When I got out of the Navy, I went to St. Paul (looking for a job). I walked into First National Bank in St. Paul, and I got a job," said Wisniewski.

At First National, Wisniewski received his training in the bank business. Then he went to work for Victor Reim at Commercial State Bank in St. Paul.

Reim bought the Farmers & Merchants Bank in New Ulm in 1982 (it was later renamed Alliance Bank), and he sent Wisniewski here on Aug. 13, 1982. On Jan. 1, 1983, Wisniewski took over as president of the bank from George Voltz.

He's been here ever since with his wife Joan, raising two children, Ann, now a banker with Wells Fargo in the Twin Cities, and Steve, a doctor with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Wisniewski said he has enjoyed the experience of being a community banker.

While his father worried about the problem of "having to turn someone down for a loan one day, then sitting next to them in church on Sunday," Wisniewski said that personal contact and knowledge is the key to community banking.

"Community banking is very different from other banking. It's more character, more outright trust, knowing people and knowing their backgrounds. It's more than just how much collateral you have," said Wisniewski

Wisniewski arrived in the middle of an agricultural crisis that was sending farmers across the state and the country into foreclosure and bankruptcy.

"Those were very interesting times," said Wisniewski. "Even though I came from a small town I didn't know that much about agriculture. But the farmers kept working and over the years they overcame it.

"I'm really proud of the character of the people in this area, especially the farm community. They kept plugging away and plugging away. The idea of going through bankruptcy was something they would never do. We could work with them more back then, and they got through it. Now, some of the farmers who were broke back then are multimillionaires."

Wisniewski has also enjoyed the kind of community banking that happens when the local banks in town get together to work for some big fundraising project, or to put together a loan package for something that is good for the community.

Besides his bank duties, Wisniewski has been active in the local Economic Development Authority, the Chamber of Commerce, the New Ulm Farm-City Hub Club, Oak Hills Living Center, the New Ulm Medical Center Foundation, the New Ulm Community Foundation, Heritagefest, and other groups.

"It's part of your job, to a certain extent," said Wisniewski. "It's good to get out there and hear all things that are happening in the community, all the ideas, all the problems."

When he turns the bank presidency over to Bob Reuter, an officer with the bank for several years now, Wisniewski says he will "see what happens" in retirement. He has no plans for taking on any new projects.

"I'm going to catch my breath a little and see what comes up," he said.



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