After 82 years, John Naftzger has officially ended his banking career.
Naftzger on Thursday retired from his position as a director of Southwest National Bank, a bank that his grandfather founded in 1915 and that his family owned up until 1989.
The 93-year-old grandson of L.S. Naftzger was honored at a reception Thursday morning at the bank’s downtown branch, originally built in 1963, when Naftzger was vice president and cashier at the bank.
The Naftzgers were pioneers in Wichita banking. John Naftzger’s grandfather, an attorney who moved to Wichita from Missouri, was a shareholder in Fourth National Bank – later renamed Bank IV and through a series of deals in the 1990s acquired by Bank of America – and became that bank’s president in 1892, holding the position for 18 years. Naftzger’s father and uncle also were shareholders in Fourth National until 1910.
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John Naftzger was 12 when he got his first job at Southwest National Bank as a messenger. He said he made 50 cents a week.
After graduating from the University of Kansas, he went to work for a brokerage in Chicago and then returned to Kansas to work for the state treasurer’s office. In 1930, he joined the bank as a full-time employee, working in the “transit office,” which handled check processing and clearing.
“Dad called me and said, ‘You better come back to the bank, back where you belong,’ ” Naftzger said.
He estimates the bank’s assets were $3 million at the time.
“When we reached $10 million, I thought we’d reached the top over everything, and it wasn’t everything,” Naftzger said, noting that the bank today has $450 million in assets.
Naftzger’s grandfather died in 1933 and his father, M.C. Naftzger, assumed the bank’s top post until his death in 1972. That’s when John Naftzger assumed the bank’s top post.
Naftzger said his fondest memories of his banking career involved working with the bank’s employees and customers.
“We had a lovely group of people,” he said.
He also enjoyed his time working as a correspondent banker. At one time Southwest National provided correspondent banking services to smaller banks around Kansas as well as in Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle. Naftzger would travel “in the summertime almost constantly,” visiting banks in those states.
Naftzger said he was involved in the planning and development of the bank’s signature downtown building at 400 E. Douglas. Even though it looks to be from a much earlier era, the Williamsburg colonial-style building on the northeast corner of Topeka and Douglas was built in 1963. Naftzger said it was his father’s desire to build a new office in that style.
“His personal home on Belmont (street in College Hill) was Williamsburg colonial,” he said.
Prior to the opening of that office, the Naftzgers owned the ground where the current Bank of America Center building sits, directly west of the Southwest building, on Douglas between Broadway and Topeka. That was the original location of Southwest’s main office. When the Naftzgers decided to build a new building, they asked Koch Industries’ namesake, Fred Koch, to swap land, because he owned the ground that the Naftzgers wanted for their building.
“It was a sweet deal,” Naftzger said. “Mr. Koch was very easy to deal with.”
In 1989, Naftzger and his family sold the bank to Jerry Blue. The agreement called for Naftzger to remain on the board of directors after the sale, and Naftzger continued to serve as co-chairman. The bank’s new owner also kept an office open for Naftzger, said Trish Minard, Southwest National’s current CEO. Minard said that up until a few years ago, Naftzger could be found in that office almost daily. More recently he makes it in a couple of times a week.
“He has been tirelessly devoted to the bank,” she said. “He’s a wonderful man and he’s lived his whole life for and through the bank.”