Aubrey Sherrod always knew he could count on Mr. B for a clean pair of socks.
But Roland “Joe” Banks meant so much more to Sherrod and thousands of former Wichita State University athletes, students and others who crossed paths with him in life.
“Nothing was too small or too big for Mr. B,” said Sherrod, a WSU basketball star in the early 1980s. “He had a knack for knowing what needed to be done, how to treat people and tell you what you needed to know.”
Admirers, from former Shocker ball boys to such legendary WSU athletes as Cleo Littleton and Linwood Sexton, came to Mr. Banks’ funeral service at Strangers Rest Baptist Church on Friday to share and remember the man most knew simply as Mr. B. He died April 5 at 78 after a long battle with cancer.
Mr. Banks started his 35-year career in WSU athletics as a custodian, soon became the equipment manager and later was promoted to special assistant to the athletic director before he retired in 2009.
Those were his official titles.
Unofficially, he was a confidant, encourager and mentor to athletes and coaches. A father figure to those who were away from home for the first time.
“He was a sports psychologist before there were sports psychologists,” Eric Sexton, Linwood’s son and WSU athletic director, told the gathering. “He had the foresight to give each person he touched what they needed. It might not have been what they wanted, but it was always what they needed. That’s what is so special about Mr. B.”
But, Sexton added, “We all knew we worked for him, even the president.”
Mr. Banks loved green apples. But when he visited WSU president Don Beggs’ office a number of years ago, he saw there weren’t any green apples in a bowl of fruit on the table. Mr. Banks suggested the president add green apples.
“He got his green apples,” Beggs said after Friday’s service. “He was a wonderful man. He could look at things and know the right thing to do. It didn’t matter what your job was, he was always trying to support you.”
The Rev. Eric Williams, who was Mr. Banks’ pastor at Brotherhood Presbyterian Church, described him as a determined man who could read the character of people. “You could learn from him just by sitting and listening,” Williams said.
No one knows that better than the many athletes who passed his way.
Sherrod described “shop talk” meetings he and teammates Xavier McDaniel and Antoine Carr would have after the season in the early 1980s.
“Just to make sure he was updated on what we were doing next before we left for the summer,” Sherrod said. “He was always making sure we did the right thing.”
Linwood Sexton came to know Mr. Banks from a much different perspective. A three-sport Shocker star from the late 1940s, he observed the man while watching countless WSU football and basketball practices over the years. He saw the gentle but firm hand he gave the athletes.
“He had such confidence and compassion,” Sexton said. “If they were doing wrong, he’d pull their coattail. But everyone respected him because he was so up-front.”
Mr. Banks was the same away from WSU. At his church, he was quick to help.
“He never said, ‘I can’t do that,’ ” said June Hicks, a member of Brotherhood Presbyterian. “It was always, ‘OK, what do you want me to do?’ ”
B.J. Moore got to know Mr. Banks not only while he played Shocker football from 1979-80 but also while working for five years as an assistant equipment manager under him.
“He’d advise you on who to hang out with and who not to hang out with,” said Moore, now a contract administrator for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. “There was sternness. He’d tell you the truth. But he treated everyone the same. It didn’t matter whether you were a superstar or sat on the bench.”
Or were a ball boy, which was LaTye Hatcher’s role for Shocker teams in the 1980s. He drove up from his home in Beaumont, Texas, to honor Mr. Banks.
“He taught us a lot of family values,” Hatcher said. “And he always made sure to tell the ball boys to take a nap before games.”
Terri Moses, a former WSU women’s basketball player and now a deputy chief with the Wichita Police Department, recalled Mr. Banks’ dry sense of humor.
“Never afraid to spar verbally with anyone,” she said.
Dachia Scoggins, another ex-Shocker women’s basketball player, said, “Mr. B was like a father figure to me. He even kicked a couple of butts when someone needed it.”
That was sometimes needed.
Kevin Scott, a defensive end from St. Louis, arrived at WSU in the late 1970s before Mr. Banks allowed a little more informality and became Mr. B.
“It was only ‘Mr. Banks,’ ” Scott said.
And he was a father figure in a very real sense.
“We’re not just saying that,” said Scott, now an associate pastor at New Zion Baptist Church in Wichita. “A majority of us didn’t have fathers. It was our first time away from home, and he’d been around the world. He made sure we wound up on the right road.
“If you came to him and you were crooked, you left straight. This is a passing of an era.”