“I have often wondered what it is an old building can do to you when you happen to know a little about things that went on long ago in that building.”—Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) American poet, biographer, and journalist.
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A few years ago, before making my return appearance at The Light and Champion, the local newspaper featured a photo of the Farmers State Bank building in Center and asked for recollections about the building from the community.
Not one to miss telling a story, I dusted off my keyboard and submitted my thoughts.
It’s usually the people that make a building memorable, I wrote. The most memorable part of the Farmers State Bank for me was the third-floor coffee shop and the people who frequented the downtown coffee spot.
While serving as editor and publisher of the Center newspaper during the 1980s, I worked diligently at mingling with people hoping to pick up on a news story or snag an ad or two in the process. Part of my daily routine was going to the post office, the old one on the corner of Tenaha and Logansport streets where the law offices of Don Wheeler are located today.
Not only was the post office a great place to see people every morning, but to get there, I had to walk right past the bank. At that time, the long-time Center financial institution occupied just the tall building with the columns on the front. The addition between that building and Morrison’s Insurance was yet to come.
Morning coffee drinkers flocked to the third-floor break room at the bank where, at times, finding a table required precise timing. And truth be known, coffee was way down the priority list. It was a great place to stay updated on the local news with details often shared with the disclaimer familiar to those of us in the news business, “Now this is off the record.”
Over time, my business at Farmer’s Bank was divided among several of the loan officers, including then-president Jack Motley, better known as Mr. Jack. As an avid hot rodder and drag racer, I heard the stories about Mr. Jack’s reputed stash of old cars. They were accepted as fact because he had himself been a hot rodder and drag racer in his day along with another familiar face at the bank, W.I. Davis.
During a coffee stop one morning, Mr. Jack walked over and sat down beside me. Then, with his signature smile and deep voice, he asked, ‘What kind of old car are you foolin’ with now?’
I responded with a story about the ’56 Thunderbird I had driven in a local parade most recently. Then he did it. I couldn’t believe my ears when he said, “You know, I’ve got a couple of chicken houses full of old cars I need to do something with. Reckon you could help me figure out what I’ve got and what they’re worth?” He even offered me “pick of the litter” rights if I would help him.
The sun, the moon, and the stars had aligned perfectly that morning in the Farmers Bank coffee shop. I had been blessed with the map to the mysterious mother lode of old cars.
A couple of weeks later, when all the dirty work was done, I gave him an inventory of about 25 cars I think it was and noted the four I would like to have. I really wanted two, but I had to move two others to get the two I wanted out, so I said I would take all four.
“I’ll make you a deal on all of them,” he said, leaning toward me as he customarily did when talking to someone.
“Mr. Jack,” I countered, “I can’t afford all of them.”
“I’ll finance them for you,” he quickly replied.
“Mr. Jack,” I said slowly. “I appreciate that very much. But if you did, I couldn’t afford to pay you back. And I don’t think those are the kind of loans you enjoy making.”
He agreed, and we laughed together. I left the coffee shop that day decades ago with a smile, thinking about my chance part in uncovering the mysterious stash of Mr. Jack’s cars and with plans to get my four moved. I also smiled, knowing that another story, another ad, and another great memory awaited me on my next trip to the Farmer’s State Bank coffee shop.
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