Brinkman, bank’s president and CEO, to retire after 42 years

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 25, 2000

Robert E.

Saturday, November 25, 2000

Robert E. "Bob" Brinkman has been going to the same place to work for 42 years.

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When the year ends, that stops.

Brinkman is retiring, ending a distinguished career in finance.

Steve Drennan, executive president and CEO of First Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Brownsdale, Sargeant and Austin, observed, "You can replace over 41 years of experience that easily. His success has been proven time and time again. He’s going to be greatly missed."

High praise for anyone, but consider the Brinkman story and learn how it was earned.

"I actually started working here, when it was the old Austin Savings and Loan, in 1959, when I was a junior in high school. I shoveled side walks, worked the teller windows and just about whatever needed doing."

He has been a part of expansions, mergers and acquisitions.

He has engineered the opening of branch offices in southeastern Minnesota.

He has participated in the transformation of a savings and loan into a full-service bank.

He has watched younger financial officers learn the job and go on to bigger and better jobs in their lives.

He has watched his hometown face challenges and come up standing.

True. There have been a couple of side-trips to Winona and Stewartville, but essentially Brinkman has worked for the same financial institution based at the same North Main Street location in Austin for more than four decades.

Milestones dot career

When he was directed to open a new branch office of Austin Savings and Loan at Stewartville in 1965, it marked the first branch office opening of an S&L anywhere in the state.

When Austin S&L was acquired by First Fidelity S&L in 1972, Brinkman remained the manager.

Then, he was assigned to open a new branch office at Winona.

When he returned to the Austin base in 1974, he was named president and managing officer.

The S&L enjoyed strong growth under Brinkman’s leadership until it merged with TCF in 1982 after assets rose from $40 to $100 million. Brinkman set up the merger.

"I think our home loan and consumer deposits were our strengths at the time," he said. "We offered competitive products, always respected our consumers and provided excellent services."

Before the merger with TCF, the S&L had opened branch offices at Rochester in 1980 and St. Charles in early 1982.

The merger gave TCF a foot-hold in the financial world in southeastern Minnesota.

It also helped an Austin-based S&L grow from $100 million in assets to merge with a company that boasted $5 billion in assets.

But, First Fidelity of Austin was not shrinking violet in the financial world. At the time, it was ranked the third most profitable S&L in the state of Minnesota; an enviable status at the time, considering the difficulties other S&Ls experienced.

"It was good for both," Brinkman said of the historic merger. "TCF is a good company and they had a lot of expertise in certain markets that allowed us to expand into other areas of the business."

Four years later, the merged firms went from mutual-owned to public-owned legal status and in 1990, TCF received national bank status.

Again, Brinkman remained at the helm of the Austin operations through more transitions.

Financial flux continues

Still more change came in 1990, when First Farmers & Merchants State Bank of Brownsdale, through its owner, 215 Holding Company, acquired the Austin office as well as financial offices at Pipestone.

"First Farmers & Merchants wanted to expand into the Austin area for a long time and when they did, it essentially gave them five banks in Mower County," Brinkman said of the Brownsdale, Sargeant, Austin, Grand Meadow and Racine bank offices under 215 Holding Company’s umbrella.

"We’ve always been a community bank, serving the needs of the local community, whether it was when we were an S&L or when we became a bank branch office of 215 Holding Company," Brinkman said. "We were here to serve the local consumer, business person and farmer. In fact, one of our continuing strengths is our ag lending program. We’re second to none."

If it sounds like Brinkman is boasting, it’s only another sign of how loyal he is to his hometown and all that it encompasses, economically and otherwise.

"LaVonne and I have no plans to move after I retire," he said. "We have absolutely no interest in leaving Austin. This is where our children and grandchildren are. Austin is a great community. This is where we want to be. This is home."

Spoken just like a "local boy who made good," which Brinkman is.

Roots run deep

His father, deceased, was a farmer. His father survives and lives at The Oaks condominiums in Austin. He has three brothers and four sisters.

He attended Maple Leaf Country School No. 106, spent his freshman and sophomore years at Austin High School and after school redistricting, spent his junior and senior years at the Rose Creek High School, where he graduated.

He earned an associate’s degree in commerce at Austin Community College.

He and his wife, LaVonne (nee Wendorf), a vision and hearing screening specialist for Austin Public Schools, have three daughters and a son, plus 10 grandchildren.

An avid fisherman and golfer, Brinkman also enjoys hunting upland game, cross country skiing and wood crafts.

He is heavily involved in the Austin community, including the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Rotary Club, Development Corporation of Austin and Friends of the Nature Center, as well as Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

Future plans

There will be public and private recognitions honoring Brinkman when November becomes December, and after the retirement parties, Brinkman will still remain a consultant to his successor.

His hands-on financial skills, people skills and satisfaction in helping consumers have carried him well through the years.

"There’s nothing like the feeling you get, walking down the street and somebody comes up to you and says ‘Hey! I remember you. You made me a loan to buy my first house.’ That feels good," Brinkman said.

So, how does Brinkman, the teenager who used to shovel sidewalks in front of the old Austin S&L and became the president and managing officer of a profitable and highly coveted financial institution want to be remembered?

"I think honest and integrity the best assets that can be," he said. "I would like to be known as somebody who championed them all the time."