After looking ahead to his retirement for some time, Manhattan Bank President Bob DeWit now finds himself looking back and reminiscing during his last days of the job.
DeWit officially will retire next Tuesday from the bank, where he has worked for nearly 30 years, almost 17 of them as its president. His last day will be his 65th birthday.
“It’s time,” DeWit said this week, while taking a break from cleaning out his office at the bank’s main branch on South Broadway in Manhattan. “It’s been a good run for me.”
Though he cites health issues as among his reasons for retiring now, it’s obvious even on short acquaintance that DeWit doesn’t intend to slow down anytime soon. Professionally, he will help with the bank’s efforts to build a new home for its Bozeman branch, which will be located just a few blocks from the bank’s current leased site on West Main Street. A consummate community volunteer, he will continue to advocate for the development of the local trail system, a portion of which he volunteers to maintain year-round by mowing and snowplowing. And he is in the process of refurbishing the Little Free Libraries, or wooden kiosks, that he built five years ago to enable free book-sharing all over the community.
Such civic-mindedness seems to govern not only DeWit’s service ambitions, but also his professional ones. He says he decided to go into banking because, after earning his degree in agricultural business from Montana State University, because he was “going broke as a farmer” in his native Opheim in the 1980s. During that period in Valley County, DeWit says, there were a couple of years when it was drier there than it was during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Two-thirds of his income came from crop insurance payments or federal subsidies.
He switched careers, and spent eight years as a banker in Great Falls, while earning a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Montana through a satellite program at Malmstrom Air Force Base, as well as a banking administration degree through the Pacific Coast Banking School. But his dissatisfaction with the way the bank’s corporate, out-of-state parent company handed down policies led him to community banking.
“People three states away made sweeping changes to the organization that just killed us in Montana – that’s basically what brought me here,” he said.
“The people who make decision in those big organizations don’t have the community concern,” he added. “If you’re a community bank and the community isn’t doing well, you’re not doing well.”
DeWit found his niche in 1990 at Manhattan Bank, where he started as a loan officer for the institution that understood the needs of its local customers.
“Manhattan Bank’s mission is customer-based,” DeWit said. “We try to focus on customer relations, and making them the best they can be.”
DeWit acknowledges that there is only so much a community bank can do it times of economic downtown, but he said the local economy has made the boom-and-bust cycles to be easier to manage.
“Everything cycles – ag cycles, real estate cycles – but it’s easier to take here than in eastern Montana,” he said. “We’re very blessed to have as diverse an economy here as we do. It’s easier to be a good banker in a healthy economy.”
Looking back, DeWit says the decision to move to Manhattan was satisfying not just professionally, but also personally. His wife worked as a music teacher for the Manhattan schools, and here they raised their son and daughter, who have remained in the valley and now have children of their own. DeWit served on the Manhattan City-County Planning Board for 25 years, during which developing a growth plan was the body’s focus. He also was active in Rotary for many years because he wanted to be part of a local service organization.
“It’s rewarding,” DeWit said of both his personal and professional efforts, and when asked for specific examples, he again turned to the theme of “community” while telling a personal story about the generosity of Manhattan’s citizens.
In 2004, he was misdiagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. DeWit and his wife prepared to move from their split-level into a more accessible house nearby, and on the appointed Saturday morning, 50 community members showed up to help. As he enters retirement now, he said he wishes to extend his thanks to people of Manhattan not only for that, but for making his very rewarding career possible.
In retirement, DeWit says that while he might have some more time to pursue his motorcycling hobby or travel a bit, he has no wish to move out of the community where he has given and received much.
“It’s a great place to live,” he said.
In honor of DeWit’s retirement, the Manhattan branch will host an open house Friday afternoon, Sept. 13, from 1 to 5 p.m. in the bank’s lobby. The public is invited.