Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ride This Train

If I was going to compare life to anything, it’d be like riding a train on a long trip. You get born onboard and you don’t exactly know when you’ll get off. A train pulls a lot of cars and as you roll through the countryside of your existence, you change cars a lot. Every day you make switches. Maybe you start out in the domestic car, waking with your spouse, having breakfast together in the family dining car, but then you leap across the connector to the business world compartment where everyone is dressed for success and busy as can be trying to please the boss. It’s a constant game of train hopping, of wearing your different hats and fulfilling your varied rolls in life.
There are special days on the timetable of your calendar, anniversaries, birthdays and holidays. These are as important in your life as your job or anything else. You build traditions around these dates and as your family grows, so do these happy obilgations. Birthdays punctuated the year and in those years of childhood this meant some type of home party or outing for each child. Laurel’s was in March, which meant it was between the coming or going of Easter and another big dinner and get together at my parents, both for her birthday and for the holiday.

Noelle’s birthday was near the other great Christian holiday, Christmas. When someone is born that close to December 25 you must make certain you do not blend the two events. Each child deserves the distinct focus of her own birthday. 
My father and my wife both celebrated another year in October.
June was the big month, though. My Grandmother’s birthday was on the eleventh and then came my mother’s birthday on the 21st. The 21st was also my parents wedding anniversary and generally Father’s Day fell on or near this date as well. A week later my birthday came. Just to complicate things, my wife’s best friend’s birthday was on the 24th and my longtime friend from childhood, Stuart’s fell on the 30th. As far as all the family dates we always went out to some restaurant to celebrate, such as The Peddler’s Inn or The Black Angus. It was an extra special celebration for my Grandmother for she turned 85 that June.
Even Darryl’s birthday could add to the business of things. It fell on the 24th of August, which put it on or near the Wilson Family Reunion we all attended every year on the last Sunday of August. Of course in 1984 Darryl was still a bit too young to grasp what was going on.
Unfortunately, Lois didn’t attend the reunion with us that summer as she was sick.  No, she wasn’t pregnant again, but she was getting sick a lot, especially when she was supposed to go to gatherings of people. She always came down with something that kept her away from other people. We didn’t take too much note of this at the time.

 We had big dinners each year on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Since the children had arrived we had Thanksgiving at my parents, where my Grandmother did most of the cooking, and we had Christmas at our place, where Lois did the meal. We went to this arrangement feeling it wasn’t right to drag the kids away from all the toys they received to rush up to grandma and grandpa’s. There was always a big feast at my parents on Easter Sunday as well.

Then you had the lesser holidays to content with, New Year’s, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor day, plus Halloween and day trips to the beach or Dutch Country or where all. Every week was church. Every day was busy. Family life is a full time job of its own and except for Laurel, our kids weren’t even in school yet, let alone a lot of extra activities. Those things were yet to come.
What did come was my 25th High School Class Reunion on the tenth of November. Twenty-five years, really? I don’t think we went to Lois’ class reunion that year, even though it was the 25-year milestone too.
Lois and I managed to get time off alone by dropping our brood off at my parents several times over the year. We weren’t getting any of those long vacation trips we used to take, though.  The longest we could squeeze in was a two-day church retreat to a camp in Maryland.
We also got another weekend together in New York beginning on December 15 as I attended another American Management Association seminar that coming week. The usual thing, we went up on Saturday morning and Lois stayed over until Monday before taking the train home. I remained the rest of the week to take classes in “Quality Control in the Service Industries”.
Riding the business compartment there was another big deal of a project I was heading up that summer. It was bigger than most of my past projects, at least in the sense it involved far more divisions throughout the bank making it more complicated. All projects generally require a team of players. This one was notable by the number of high level members. Here is a picture of the Team:

Projects of any magnitude required a sponsor at vice-president level or higher .Walt Whittaker sits at the head of the table. He was the vice-president over one of the largest divisions of the bank, Deposit Services and Data Preparation, and had been picked by Barney Taylor, then Chairman and President of Wilmington Trust as this project's sponsor. I was named as the Project Manager and that is me seated to Walt’s right. Seated from my right are Dale Haring, an intern at the time (more about the interns later), and Etta Harper, who was an Assistant Vice-President and Head of Data Preparation. Behind Walt, standing to his far right is John Behringer, Assistant Vice-President and Head of the Savings and Operation Section of Deposit Services. John was also the man everyone assumed would eventually more up into Walt’s position when Walt retired. Most of the others were from Information Technology (known in those days as just Operations). These included Chris Honorowski, a brilliant programmer who I worked on several projects with; France Shelton, who will talk about in a later chapter; Jean Byassee, at that time Chris Honorowski's boss; and Ed Newman, almost the stereotype of a computer nerd. Charles Stone was from Marketing and Tod Hughes, I believe was from Finance. I am not sure anymore what areas Thom Holden and Rick Tindall represented. The three absentees were Anne Freebery, Assistant Vice-president over the Deposit Operations Section; John Kipp, Vice-president in the Information Technology Division; and Rick Wilhide a vice-president in Retail.  A lot of bucks were represented here.
    What made this project so important to everyone was not just its uniqueness; it was the opportunity to show up all the other big banks and put them in their place, even thoughthis was another one of those “new-fangled” ideas that most were saying couldn’t be done, including some of those pictured as on the team. Wilmington Trust was going to introduce something called “Self-Service Banking” with totally free checking accounts. And, of course, despite the sceptics, we did it. We were not only the first bank to offer this service in Wilmington and Delaware, and the whole Philadelphia Region, we were the first in the good ol' USA to do it, perhaps the world.
There had been a couple of banks that tried offering free checking previously, but all these attempts had failed. The industry was convinced the whole idea was a big money loser. Now we thought we had the technology to make it work, even though a number of those inside The Bank were fighting it. However, at the same time, Congress was getting on the Banking Industries for not providing cheap services to those in the low income brackets. This helped our cause. This project would not only bring us the important youth market we believed it would, but would answer any criticism from Washington.

It was exactly what we claimed. There was no service charge, no minimum balance and no per check charges. The only actual restriction was you could not go to a live teller for any transaction an ATM could handle, which were the majority of transactions people used banks for anyway. You could do a deposit or a withdrawal of funds at an ATM. You could get your balance from the machine. These ATM would also print out a short bank statement if you requested one. Therefore, if a Self-Service Customer choose to go to a teller for any of these items they would be changed $2.50 per transaction. If a customer went to a live teller for a transaction the ATM could not provide, there would be no charge. This also applied if the ATM was out of service. Each new Self-Service Customer was issued a Bank Card to use in ATMs and a packet of checks. Checks were free as long as the customer ordered generic ones. If they wished a picture or fancy design on the checks they had to pay extra.
We promoted this new product heavily at the University of Delaware and other local colleges as the perfect account for a student. The theory was that as students graduated and became successful in life they would stay loyal customers of Wilmington Trust.
Checks once cleared were not returned to the customer with monthly statements. The cancelled checks were stored at the bank for 30 days (although in reality we kept them for at least 90), then were put on microfiche. If a customer needed a copy of a cancelled check, the bank would provide one at no charge. This storage of Self-Service items had implications for another product idea down the line, Check Safekeeping.

Also in 1984 Wilmington Trust’s CEO incorporated an Intern Program. Each year, going forward a
group of students would be picked from the Local colleges as interns. They would serve in this position for one year, during which they would be shifted throughout the bank departments, divisions and sections to learn everything in the operations. They received no pay for this and only the possibility that a job might be offered at the end of their one-year tour.
I was named to develop and conduct the training within our Divisions. One of the first things I did was write a booklet called A Guide to the Deposit Services Division. This contained a brief explanation of each unit by section. We would use the booklet as a handout to new employees and during some presentations the Bank did in the coming year.
My program was a combination of on-hands experience and lectures from several managers and myself about what we did and how we did it. The course was several weeks long. During the last days I gave a final exam. The program was designed to assure that no one would fail, not because it was easy, but because we attempted through clear language and repetition that everyone would get it.
There were 12 Interns in the initial group (and it pretty much stayed around a dozen each year thereafter). Most were from the University of Delaware and the vast majority were men. I can't even remember if we had any women in that first group.  There were only three who were hired at year end, and one of these left after only a few months. The two who stayed were Dale Haring and Fil Sherry.
This was interesting to me. Fil Sherry (pictured left) had scored the lowest on my final exam and he had been something of an annoying presents. He was always showing up late for training sessions and invariably got up to take phone calls, disrupting everyone else. He was lackadaisical and disinterested. If it had been in my power, I would have kicked him out of the program.
Remember this because Oil Sherry will play a major roll in my own career.

The train ride through 1984 ran pretty smoothly. We looked with great anticipation to the stations ahead. But when you ride this train of life you can't always be sure what is around the next bend.

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