It was the fall of 1919.
Less than a year after World War I ended, yet still 10 years before the Great Depression would begin, an Iowa dairy farmer named Harry J. Dorweiler (H.J.) had just decided to have his leg amputated after a seven year battle with osteomyelitis. Not long after losing his leg, H.J. received a letter from his brother, Louie C. Dorweiler (L.C.). The letter requested H.J. move to Minnesota to help run a bank in Hamel, Minnesota. H.J. agreed and moved to Minnesota where he would start on April 1, 1920. Perhaps a fitting day as H.J. recalls in Some Memoirs of a Country Banker, “I had not realized what I was getting myself in for, as the bank replaced one that had failed and destroyed the confidence of the public. The only banking experience I had was handling my own checking account and that of a cheese factory of which I was Secretary-Treasurer. I had no idea of the task ahead when entire community had been adversely affected by the failure of the earlier bank.”
When he started H.J. was alone with only one other woman who herself had but just a few months experience. “We were with strangers here and did not know anyone. So if we asked someone in confidence about a customer, chances were that we were asking about a relative of his. Therefore, I had to be extremely cautious and exercise my own best judgment and intuition. It was a daily occurrence to hear someone tell how much they lost in the old bank and had no confidence anymore.”
A Fourth Generation Family Owned Business
H.J.’s great grandson Rowdy Dorweiler, the current president and 4th generation Dorweiler of the bank, sits across from us during the conference room interview. He started off as a teller in high school. His dark hair, blue eyes, boyish good looks and humble demeanor are anything but “rowdy.” His eldest son Colton flanks his right, while Chilly, their full blooded Australian Shepherd rests on the thick wood flooring at Rowdy’s feet. Colton has expressed interest in being the 5th generation Dorweiler to carry the bank on. But as a boy, for now he helps by cleaning, mowing the lawn and sorting tickets at the Rodeo. The door to the conference room where we are interviewing is closed, but this is not a closed door type of place. Rowdy notes you don’t need to make an appointment at this bank. Aptly during our interview Rowdy’s wife, Shannon, opens the door, enters and sits down. When I ask her what it is like to be part of a bank like this, she simply smiles and says she couldn’t ask to be a part of a better family.
In fact, just this summer I was speaking with a local business owner who recalled his first experience at Farmers State Bank of Hamel where he was sitting in a meeting when all of a sudden, Shorty Dorweiler, Rowdy’s dad and CEO of the bank, just “pops into the meeting, sits down next to us and joins the conversation without skipping a beat.”
I personally opened my first checking account at Farmers State Bank of Hamel back when I was a teenager and have been ever since. Their service includes calling when I would overdraw my checking account in my early 20’s, to reminding me Santa was here for our kids in my late 30’s. Whether it’s walking through the front door or pulling up to the drive thru, you’ll almost always see a familiar face who greets you by name with a genuine smile that tells you this is a family owned operation and the people here care about you and the community, which they’ve so generously supported over 10 decades. This is further proven when you consider that eight of their 25 employees have been there 20+ years and have had numerous retirees, as recent as Rick Traut who retired last year after having worked for 40+ years.
Some Memoirs of a Country Banker
Rowdy would later send the 28 page piece, Some Memoirs of a Country Banker, which his great grandfather wrote. In addition to being a self-taught banker and writer, H.J. also had veterinary skills. Rowdy continues, “They were all farmers and it was a tough time back in the early 20’s. That was his in, not only to provide the banking end of it, but also provide some veterinary care for animals. It worked well for him because he was taking care of the collateral for the loan; he had a vested interest in making sure the cattle herds were healthy and successful. That was what got a good foothold early for them in banking in Hamel because they were all outsiders, my family wasn’t from the Hamel area.”
After reading Some Memoirs of a Country Banker and talking with Rowdy, it was quite apparent that the only industry in Hamel during that time period was farming, though that didn’t take away from some of the incredibly interesting stories H.J. Dorweiler captured in his piece. For example, when I asked Rowdy if the bank had ever been robbed, I hadn’t expected him to say, “twice.” And upon closer examination of the Memoirs, that number grew.
H.J. writes, “In jotting down some memories of my experiences in 46 years of banking, it would hardly be complete without some mention of the unpleasant subject of bank robberies of which we had more than our share – four daylight holdups and two night burglaries. I was in two of the daylight jobs. The first holdup occurred in 1926. I was not in at the time. My assistant was alone at the moment. There was a take of $1,100.00 on this occasion. The next robbery occurred in 1930, at the time when a bank robbery in the state was a weekly occurrence.”
Though H.J. wasn’t around for that one, he was on May 16, 1930 as he describes, “It was my first experience and a harrowing one at that. There was only one man and before it was all over and he had the money in his pocket, he ordered us into the vault and for some reason he opened the door again, and I shot and killed him. I assure you it was an extremely unpleasant task. However, he was a young man twenty-one years of age and had a job at the Ford plant which paid him $6.00 per day so there was no reason for his trying to rob a bank.” Check out more bank robbery stories and the full, unedited Memoirs at www.LocalTiesMedia.com.
From a Diamond in the Rough to the Crown Jewel of Hamel
The original Farmers State Bank building was on the property where State Farm Insurance currently is located next to the VFW on Hamel Road. Before the Dorweilers took it over, it was called Hamel Bank. Shortly after it was started back up, it relocated and has since been expanded at least twice in the current location at the tip of Sioux Drive and Hamel Road in uptown Hamel. They built the current building back in 2004, though when you walk through the doors it feels like you’re walking into a bank on the set of a high budget wild west movie, except everything is actually real. Rowdy tells us that “when the decision was made to build the new building, obviously we wanted to keep it rustic, a small town feel. We didn’t want to be the typical suit and tie bank, we wanted our customers to feel comfortable, they could come talk to the owners and managers anytime.”
The bank has a second location in Corcoran with four employees. Although it doesn’t have the same hometown flavor as their flagship headquarters in Hamel, Rowdy describes it as “rustic with a modern feel.” It also tends to be quite convenient for those on the north side of Medina and in or around Corcoran.
At the Hamel bank location there is a large standing grizzly bear, a Cape buffalo head and a host of other animals, all shot by D.J. Dorweiler, or “Shorty” as most know him by. Shorty is the original founder of the Hamel Rodeo, Medina’s largest and longest running annual fundraiser, surpassing $2 million dollars last year of money raised in 2018. If you’re wondering who Shorty is, he is the gritty gentlemen wearing the bear claw necklace in the northeast corner office where the door is usually open, and if he isn’t sitting in his chair with a client or friend, he is up and about joking with his staff or saying hello to the next person that walks in. To me, Shorty is the type of character that folk heroes are made of; and only in places like Hamel, Minnesota do they still exist in real life.
Celebrating 100 Years in September
On Saturday, September 7th from 2-5 p.m., Shorty, Rowdy and the rest of the staff will host the Farmers State Bank of Hamel’s 100 year anniversary celebration where there will be plenty of food, including pork chops from Beise’s in Delano, some local history and lots of prizes. Rowdy took care to emphasize, “we’re not celebrating dad, we’re not celebrating me, we’re not celebrating whomever, it’s about 100 years and the number of people that worked here and a celebration of the community.”
Let’s be honest, 100 years is an incredible milestone to hit for any business, much less an independently owned bank. Especially when you consider how many banks, both large and small, have failed, merged and/or been acquired in that same period. Given their early roots of planting seeds in an unfamiliar town on the heels of a potentially hostile customer base to then go on and survive the Great Depression, the 80’s farm crisis (among others before it), the savings and loan crisis of the mid-80’s/90’s, the great Recession and everything in between; it becomes clear that Farmers State Bank is something special.
At face value, one could say it is their conservative approach to banking and solid underwriting, combined with an ability to adapt and evolve with the times — such as their user friendly mobile banking app — that has made them last this long. However, it seems their DNA has really been built upon a steadfast consistency of staying true to their community, their instincts and their staff while supporting the individuals and businesses in both good times and in bad; knowing that the value of a long-term relationship built on trust, mutual respect, hard work and sometimes a little bit of faith is what gives money its value in the first place and ultimately will determine if a community thrives or dies. From the farmer who needed feed for his livestock in the 1920’s to the young family in 2020 who may need a loan for their new home in Medina, thank you Farmers State Bank of Hamel for being there and remaining true to yourselves and the amazing community we live in.
Cheers to another 100 years!