When I checked into the Best Western Comanche Inn on November 12, I had just two days to accomplish three goals: Experience a place of deep family roots; talk to people engaged in the merger of Comanche National Bank; and pay a visit to the Comanche Chief family newspaper.
Two weren’t enough, but at least partially, I accomplished my mission.
One record of Comanche history says my great-great-grandfather, T.J. Nabers, built the town’s first house. He was a Confederate veteran who brought his family to Comanche from Bell County. One of his daughters, Dora, married another Confederate Army veteran named Jefferson Washington (J.W.) Greene – their seven children included my grandfather, O.W. (Ossie) Greene).
In 1889, J.W. Greene became one of the founding directors of Comanche National Bank. A year later, J. W. died suddenly at the young age of 44, and Dora raised my grandfather and siblings in their home at the southeast corner of N. Houston St. and W. Walcott Ave. She renovated it into a handsome house that served decades of boarders before she died in 1949.
J.W.’s Comanche bank stock went to Dora, then to Ossie, then to my mother and aunt. Half of that legacy became the only continuous family ownership of CNB stock dating back to 1889.
In July of this year, we learned that Comanche National directors and major shareholders had approved a merger with Spirit of Texas Bank, headquartered in Conroe. Financially, our family embraced that news; emotionally, we came to understand the sense of loss that many in Comanche felt about “the loss of our bank.”
There in Comanche, CNB President/CEO Jeff Stewart carefully provided professional insights into the history, finances, banking issues and community aspects of the proposed merger. Civic leader Dr. Raymond Stepp was less reserved, continuing to the end his campaign urging opposition by minority shareholders. Ruth Goodson told me that her late husband, David – my second cousin – would have shared Dr. Stepp’s passion to keep Comanche National Bank local.
Needless to say, we had family discussions and second thoughts throughout the day.
It was a rare experience being the only “outsider” at the CNB shareholder’s meeting. By themn, however, we knew that our original votes, even if changed to opposition, would not impact the final ballot. At the meeting, CNB Chairman Kendall Nix calmly fielded probing questions, comments and challenges, and after a brief recess returned to announce a nearly three-quarters plurality of shareholder support for the merger.
That brings me to the Comanche Chief.
The only reason I found the Greene residence site was because, when it was torn down in 1959, the Comanche Chief published a wonderfully written history of the house and our family. My mother saved the newspaper clipping together with an old photograph of the house.
Four generations of the Wilkerson family have owned and operated the Comanche Chief since the 1920s, and since 1928, my family has owned and operated a fourth generation community newspaper in northwest Oregon. So, I was determined to visit the Chief offices and visit with Nancy Wilkerson abou the community, her family, and the challenges faced by dwindling number of family newspapers in America.
With long introduction, I hope that Nancy and her editor sons, Lance and Bradley, will indulge me more a bit more space for brief observations about my trip to Comanche.
First, I have nothing but applause for continuing revitalization of a Texas original. It’s amazing that today’s Comanche population is almost identical to its size 100 years ago, and the downtown projects are important ways to capture and enshrine the city’s rich history.
Second, I commiserate with those who are disappointed to lose the 129-year identity of Comanche National Bank. That change went into motion, it seems, when holders of a majority of CNB stock left that Comanche community, taking the “locally owned” label with them.
It would be even more of a loss if Jeff Stewart were to leave his leadership position with the news North Central Texas Region of Spirit of Texas Bank. Everyone I met credits Stewart for many years of steady growth and enlightened services by CNB.
Third, an admittedly biased comment about the Comanche Chief.
Residents of Comanche may have lost a long-time banking identity, but they still have local ownership of an important community institution. People often take that community value for granted, and don’t fully appreciate the loss until financial challenges lead to a sale, or even closure, of a community newspaper.
Your Comanche Chief, established in 1873, by its own account is “the oldest business institution in Comanche County, and the oldest newspaper published west of Fort Worth.”
I hope Comanche citizens and businesses see the value of a locally-owned newspaper. I hope they will acknowledge the need for increased subscription and advertising revenue to keep the newspaper sustainable. In other words, please support your family-owned Comanche Chief newspaper!
Finally, I just want to thank the people I encountered in Comanche for their many courtesies. Despite the angst related to the bank merger, the people were gracious and welcoming. It’s easy to see the pride and solidarity and strength that must exist through the Comanche community.
Perhaps my most memorable experience came at the end of the CNB shareholders meeting, when Comanche Appliance owner Robert Cobb walked up to me with an outstretched hand, saying, “I just wanted to meet you . . . I bought your granddaddy Ossie’s car.”
We laughed and talked at length about that old, tarp-covered Desoto stored in the dusty San Angelo garage I rummaged through as a child. It seemed to close the loop on this insider/outsider’s visit to Comanche.