Back in the 1980s, when the banking industry was faced with the farm crisis, bank foreclosures, and agencies taking over banks, Frank Suellentrop’s mother Katie gave him some words of wisdom, a proverb: “Whatever you ask for in prayer, it shall be yours.”
Suellentrop, chairman of the board of Legacy Bank, took the words to heart and prayed for the successful formation of a holding company that would help keep the bank in the family. The bank, which started in 1886 as the Bank of Colwich, has been in the family since 1911 when Clemens Suellentrop purchased a major interest in the bank.
“I had an uncle and dad in bank management, Suellentrop said. “In the mid ’80s, they were reaching retirement. My goal was trying to figure out how to make a management change at some point.
“If it [holding company] hadn’t been successful, it wouldn’t have made it to the fourth generation,” Frank Suellentrop said. “I didn’t want to be the last.
Forming Colwich Financial Corporation in 1989 helped pave the way to “help the retiring generation and transition another generation-myself and others-into the business,” Suellentrop said.
The move not only saved the bank during the turbulent ’80s, but also quite possibly Suellentrop’s career, which was recently marked by his induction into the “50 Year Club” by the Kansas Bankers Association (KBA) honor of his dedication to the industry.
Suellentrop, who retired in 2018, continues to serve as the bank’s chairman of the board while his son, Steve, is the president and CEO. Frank he was elected president of the State Bank of Colwich in 1991. In 2000, the bank’s name was changed to Legacy Bank.
Today, Legacy Bank has nine branches in Wichita, Colwich, Pratt and Sedgwick and assets totaling nearly $650 million.
“Our dad never talked to us about getting into banking except for summers when I was in high school,” Suellentrop recalled. “It was the best option after college for staying in the community.” Suellentrop’s first job after graduating from St. Gregory’s College in 1973 with an associate’s degree in business was a teller for the State Bank of Colwich, where he learned the transactional side of banking by helping out with all the transactions.
“It was quite a bit different back then,” he said. “We didn’t have electronic machines. You had to learn everything, balance each transaction and the whole day. It was a fun part of my banking career.”
It was a time when most people came into the bank to conduct their business. Sometimes there were 20 or more customers standing in line for a transaction, he said.
“Each customer had a conversation about what their business was and their family, and you got to know them individually,” Suellentrop said. “That was as much contact as you could have.” From there, Suellentrop got into the lending side of banking, and customer contact was “much more limited.” Still, he enjoyed helping customers in a different, larger way.
Over the years, Suellentrop has served on several boards and committees, including the KBA Board of Director – Region 3 Representative, KBA Federal Affairs Committee, Boards for Bankers’ Bank of Kansas and Friends of McConnell AFB.
“I’m certainly one to stay in touch with the bank itself and banking. I’m active in the banking association,” he said, adding that he’s headed to Capitol Hill to meet with regulatory agencies and elected officials to let them know what the banking industry’s needs are.
A constant throughout his career has been recognizing the human element in banking. Besides, it was part of the family legacy.
“My grandfather, dad and uncle had a history of being customer-oriented,” Suellentrop said. “It was the way to do business.”
“The community banker is interested in helping customers in their home purchase or business or farm business, trying to listen to what they’re saying and see if we can help them make it happen,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s the environment and the economy is good and it’s easier. Other times, like the crisis in the early ’80s and ’90s, it got pretty tough. But you still have to figure out how to help and make it work.”
Suellentrop has also always found a way to serve and be involved in the community as a Colwich City Council and Colwich City Planning Commission member, volunteering at the Colwich Ball Club and Colwich’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Locally, he continues to look for opportunities for Colwich to find a new residential development site.
“I just want the bank to continue to help the communities of Colwich, St. Marks and Andale continue to grow,” Suellentrop said.
Looking to the future of the family business, he said, “We’re moving into the fifth generation, and things are going well. I’m optimistic that we’ll have another generation to come.”
By Fred Solis, The Clarion