Railroad Savings Bank executives fought with a vengeance to save their network of 80 agents in 1989.

They were worried that federal lawmakers were going to out-law the agents because many state-chartered thrifts across the country were in trouble.

"It would have been a blow to the rural communities in Kansas." said Gary L. Baugh, president of Railroad.

Railroad executives used that argument to lobby the senators from Kansas: Bob Dole, the Republican minority leader, and Nancy Kassebaum, also a republican. And the thrift converted to a federal charter.

The effort paid off. Federal law went unchanged, saving the livelihoods of agents like Evelyn Freede.

At the ripe age of 72, Ms. Freede is Railroad's most successful deposit-gatherer. She operates out of Norton, Kan.

"I've watched it grow from the days when maybe we had five accounts and maybe three or four loans," said Ms. Freede, who started working for Railroad when she was 28 years old.

"We've got an awful lot of accounts," she continued. "We are ahead of the credit union and one of the banks."

Ms. Freede said the portfolio has held steady over the years, but lately she sees more competition from annuities. She said she's been able to maintain customers because people trust her.

"I don't want to brag, but I try to treat everybody fairly. If you are honest and aboveboard, one customer is going to tell another," she said.

Norton is in northern Kansas, near the Nebraska and Colorado borders. Ms. Freede's customers come from several counties as well as Nebraska to do business with her.

"I've always said the reason we can generate savings is we live in a place where there is no place to spend your money," Ms. Freede said. "It's a small community. They are basically levelheaded savings people."

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