The 1920s opened rather inauspiciously. In the spring of 1921, Warren G. Harding assumed office as president of the nation. In Portland, bankers considered Harding a sound choice. They realized, however, that there was little evidence that a “return to normalcy” was imminently due. The economic disruptions of World War I were not to be easily repaired. In 1921 the country sank into a deep depression which would last into the following year. A decade remembered for prosperity and cultural vitality opened with grim tidings.
However, the autumn of 1921 brought encouraging signs to Oregon. In Oregon and the nation, economic conditions were again promising, and optimism was bolstered by the $90—million wheat crop, the good wool crop, and the strengthening financial outlook for farmers. It was under these conditions that the Portland Chapter of Robert Morris Associates was organized on September 2, 1921.
Little is known about the beginnings of the chapter. The national association of RMA was founded in 1914, and records show that Oregon was number seven in the order applications were received. National’s original purpose, as set forth in its charter, was “the encouragement and protection of trade and commerce.” The formation by 13 representatives from 8 Portland banks was for carrying on these ideals. The first officers were President C.C. Colt, v.p., First National Bank (now First Interstate); First VP C.B. Sewall, v.p., Hibernia Commercial & Savings Bank; Second VP N.U. Carpenter, president, Citizens Bank; and secretary/treasurer G,C. Biohm, assistant cashier, Ladd & Tilton Bank.
The very first monthly meeting of the chapter was held at the Old Colony Club on October 5, 1921, represented by 15 officers and credit men. The principal event of the evening was a talk by George C. Jewett, manager of the Northwestern Grain Growers Associated. During these early years, chapter records are minimal, although it is believed that chapter activities (regular meetings) continued to some degree until 1949 when we merged with the Puget Sound Chapter and became known as the Pacific Northwest Chapter. The reasons as to why this merger took place are not certain. Perhaps interests locally were directed toward other areas. World War II brought momentous changes in economic conditions. Commercial bankers faced new pressures and new choices together with significant growth of deposits. Removal of wartime restrictions on purchasing, the unleashing of demand for consumer goods, and the bankers’ need to shift assets into profitable investments combined to turn an economy recently geared for savings into one geared for spending. A new banking product became popular—the loan for consumer purchases. This, together with expansion into branch banking, may have set the stage for local bankers to turn their attention elsewhere, and thus, the activities of a Portland Chapter fell by the wayside. However, the alliance of fellow bankers was strong, and therefore, affiliation with bankers to the north was the choice made rather than total abandonment of RMA membership.
The written record of activities during the ensuing years (1949—1954) is sporadic. Officers of the Pacific Northwest Chapter were generally represented by banks in the Seattle area. To what degree Portland area bankers actually attended meetings is not known, but one source revealed a dominance by the Seattle banks, with occasional invitations extended to Portland bankers to attend sessions or the annual meeting to elect officers. It can only be surmised that contacts were primarily continued by telephone and through attendance at national conventions. The channel to work through people was at least kept open. Their purpose of exchanging credit information, sharing lending practices, and determining the instances of double borrowing was among the few important reasons to keep this channel open. It proved to be a good fraternity. Knowing each other personally, understanding and developing standards and ethics would result in a strong bond through the years. Late 1954 and 1955 saw the emergence of a Portland Group of the Pacific Northwest Chapter, and it seemed inevitable that revitalization would take place.
According to Preston V. Henley, the individual primarily responsible for the revival interest, there was a certain degree of jealousy between the Portland and Seattle banks, and the Portland Group was treated as a stepchild. Consequently, with the encouragement of senior management—E.C. Sammons and E.J. Kolar from U.S. National and Arnold Groth from First National, the formation of an Oregon Chapter was begun. With the help of Ted Johnson, vice president and senior loan administrator, Security Pacific Bank, Los Angeles, and past national president of RMA, and Larry Knier, executive manager and secretary/treasurer of the National Office of RMA, the Oregon Chapter was formally organized on September 29, 1955, at the Benson Hotel, as the 22nd chapter. The first officers were President Charles Harding, senior vice president, U.S. National Bank, Vice President Robert Ridehalgh, assistant manager, Bank of California, and Secretary/Treasurer J.B. Franzwa, assistant cashier and manager, credit, First National Bank. Although not elected an officer of the chapter, Preston V. Henley played an important role in its formation and later served as a national director of RMA (1962—64) and on numerous national committees. He also wrote several articles for The Journal of Commercial Bank Lending. The only surviving member of those above—listed officers is J.B. Franzwa, whose comments were also instrumental in preparing this history. It is interesting to note that Franzwa’s mentor was Arnold Groth, the chapter’s only Life Member. In notifying national of the split from the Pacific Northwest Chapter, Franzwa reported: “Although our chapter is small, we intend to make up in enthusiasm what we lack in numbers. Our bylaws call for not less than four meetings annually, and we intend to make these meetings interesting affairs.” In many respects very little has changed through the years with reference to these meetings. Location, format, and regularity may have varied slightly, but the general-purpose remains—to educate, socialize, and strengthen.
Education in some form has always been emphasized as a valuable training tool in National RMA and at the local level. In addition to the seminars previously mentioned, the chapter has held other educational workshops. A Credit Forum was organized in 1978 at Willamette University in Salem and has been held annually since. A Western Regional Conference is also held annually with a five—year rotation among various western chapters. In 1967, the chapter hosted, for the first time, the annual Fall Conference.
From the early years as a small group of Portland-area senior lenders, membership has broadened through bringing in individuals from other areas of the bank, as well as expanding into other areas of the state and southwest Washington. Records as of November 2, 1987, show that the chapter is represented by 12 banks and 72 Associates. Many more generally attend meetings. It was through the solicitation of members in southwest Washington that the chapter gained its only member to serve as national president of RMA. Robert A. Young, Northwest National Bank, served from September 1975 to August 1976, and prior to that, while affiliated with the Puget Sound Chapter, he served as a national director in 1972—1973. In 1984 plans emerged to establish a Southern Oregon Chapter, and in September 1985, this came to fruition with the establishment of a Southern Oregon Group with seven banks becoming members. The numbers as of November 2, 1987, include 9 banks and 25 Associates.
Through the years the chapter has had a great number of individuals serve on national committees. Many have served in a variety of capacities within the chapter, written articles for publication in The Journal of Commercial Bank Lending, and contributed greatly to the local banking community.
In summary, since 1921, the chapter has evolved into an enthusiastic and viable one.