LURAY, Kansas. Oct. 2, 1963 Earl Trapp dropped in at John O’Leary Jr.’s house late one evening to discuss a rezoning of school districts in Russell County.
Earl Trapp is a farmer, and John O’Leary Jr. is president of Peoples State Bank of Luray. Luray is a small town located in the heart of Kansas, several miles from the geodetic center of North America. There are many other towns similar to Luray in this area of Kansas and each is fighting for survival.
John O’Leary Jr., as the town’s banker, plays an important role in this picture. He realizes the problems facing Luray. He knows the importance of "spirit" for the town’s survival. He also understands that he must help his customers, the farmers, adjust to the changing conditions of rural life.
Luray and its neighbors depend upon agriculture for support. Farming is no longer merely hard physical labor and good luck. It takes skill, intelligence, and good management.
A farmer must be a good businessman as well as a hard worker. He must be able to understand government programs and must tolerate the mass of paperwork which has become standard in all U.S. business.
Many towns surrounding Luray are dying. Some no longer exist. A drive along the region’s highways presents scores of abandoned dwellings.
This is not true of Luray. Luray is a relatively prosperous town. The people are not leaving for the cities in as great numbers as they are from many of the neighboring communities. Its population looks to the future.
As a local banker, Mr. O’Leary must keep up with the latest ideas in farming. He must be aware of new types of fertilizers, equipment and farm programs. He must be able to advise his clients on whether they should invest in a certain type of plow, and often must explain the essence of a new farm program. Michael and Mitch, John Jr.’s two young sons, go to Luray’s schools, and Ruth, his wife, takes an active role in the town’s affairs, preparing food for town picnics or chauffeuring local Boy Scouts.
John Jr. realizes his town is facing a battle. He sees Waldo, a neighboring town where Ruth grew up, losing its fight. Only old people attend church socials only they have remained. And only two businesses are still operating in the town.
But, Luray is John Jr.’s town. His father came to this area while a young man. John Sr. was one of the first Catholics to move to Russell County, and at first he encountered some difficulties because of his religion.
Recognized as Leader
John Sr. worked hard. He joined First National Bank of Luray, predecessor of Peoples State. He was energetic and popular. He soon was recognized as a leader. On June 1, 1934, Peoples State Bank opened, and John Sr. was named vice president and cashier. The bank grew steadily and John Sr.’s stature grew with it. The O’Leary’s, long-time Democrats, turned Luray into one of the state’s few "democratic towns." In 1958, John Sr. was named Commissioner of Banking for Kansas.
While John Sr. served in Topeka, John Jr. took charge of Peoples State’s operations as president, and John Sr. became chairman. John Jr. continued in the tradition of his father. In 1959, the bank’s assets stood at $2,507,096. Today (1963), total resourc-es of Peoples State Bank are approaching $4 million.
The bank’s growth reflects the town’s growth. The 325 people who live in Luray’s town limits and the 700 who live on its outskirts, are anxious to keep up with the times. They are proud of their grain storage elevator, of their tear-drop-shaped water tower. Similarly, they are proud of their bank. Until recently, it was the only bank in Russell Country with membership in the Federal Reserve System.
Peoples State also knows the value of public relations. It knows that to be a part of the community, as it must to flourish, it must be respected by the people who live there.
Reports Reflect Philosophy
Its annual and semi-annual reports reflect this philosophy. They inform the bank’s customers in real terms what the statement means to them. Titled, "Stability," a message on the back cover of the 1957 semi-annual report reads:
"The foregoing bank statement reflects the general financial stability of the area we serve. In spite of the fact that the 1957 wheat crop was a great disappointment and the milo harvest likewise was far below expectations, the total resources of the bank have increased more than $100,000 during the past year.
"We are grateful for the confidence and friendship of a large number of good friends who make our growth possible, and hope to serve you well in 1958 and the years to come."
Each report features photographs with which John’s customers and friends can associate themselves. Sometimes it’s a view of Luray. Once it featured Flora Dell Conaway, the bank’s eldest customer, who had recently celebrated her 100th birthday.
Mike and Mitch and their dog, Casey, often find their pictures in the reports. One statement spotlighted the bank’s directors, who are men familiar to everyone in the region.
The pièce de résistance, however, was the annual report of 1961 the year Kansas observed its centennial. The 26-page issue was devoted to Luray’s celebration of the event, and just about everyone in town found his picture in the statement.
John O’Leary is proud of his town. He drives along the highways in his 1959 Plymouth station wagon with Ruth at his side and Mike and Mitch in the back seat. He passes the well-managed farm of Earl Trapp. He sees the rolling hills of central Kansas and the colorful fields of wild sunflowers. He passes a tractor and waves to the friend who is driving it.
The sun begins to set, and Luray’s water tower comes into view. The sky seems so wide and friendly. To John and his family it is home. John Jr. does not want to see "abandoned" homes in Luray. He hopes Mike and Mitch will raise their families in the same area.
It is important to him that the local school system stays good. It is important that the Luray High School football team beats neighboring Lucas.
John Jr. also realizes the continued success of Luray will take great efforts on the part of all its citizens. He also realizes his responsibility is the greatest, for he is the town banker.