Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, May 7, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…


I got my first car loan when I was 19 years old, from the First National Bank in Oakland City, my home town. I was going to school at IU and preaching at three little churches, 16 to 35 miles from Bloomington, I needed reliable transportation. My brother-in-law’s 1947 Oldsmobile, which I had bought from him for $50 while the Navy had him and my sister stationed in Antigua, was barely limping along, using a quart of oil every 50 miles.

The banker in Oakland City knew my family was poor, but I had checking and savings accounts in that bank. Neither ever had much money, but I was a customer. He took a risk. I got a loan to buy a used green 1952 Chevy.

From that time on I got lots of loans from bankers, for cars and houses. I never questioned the existence of banks, though—how they got there. They were just there, on the corner, like the police station or the school. I knew they were a business, but it never occurred to me that somebody owned them. I mean, they were sort of like the government, just there, a public service, doing their thing so life could go on.

I did not find out about bank owners, I’m embarrassed to say, until I was in my late 30s. My excuse is that while I knew bankers, and even had some as church members, I was not in the social class to know bank owners.

Until I met Vic Pavlenko.

Vic and I were doctoral students together. His parents had been quite wealthy, his father the Caterpillar sales director for Russia and vicinity, and that’s a pretty big vicinity. [1] Vic’s parents were killed together in a car wreck. Vic and his brother each inherited a whole lot of money.

Vic was a Lutheran pastor. He used his inheritance to start and fund a regional ministry for poor rural people in the Dakotas. He brother bought a bank.

When Vic said that as he told us his story, when he said “My brother bought a bank,” I had my financial Eureka moment: “So that’s where banks come from; they have owners, just like flower shops.”

It’s like pulling back the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. There are some things we’re better off not knowing.


1] An interesting side note is that Yul Brynner was Mr. Pavlenko’s Mongolia salesman before he went into acting.

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