Wurlitzer recalled as man who loved banking

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Kayla Bunge
Thursday, November 8, 2007
— Rymund Pabst Wurlitzer was a simple man.

Customers of his modestly furnished Delavan bank filled out their deposit and withdrawal slips at an old bakery table.

“You don’t see much chrome and polish around here,” Wurlitzer told the Janesville Gazette in 1990.

He operated his small-town banks — Citizens Bank of Delavan and Sharon State Bank —without a formal business plan and with far fewer employees than his competitors. There were no computers; they would have just complicated matters. No pens; lead pencils were cheaper.

But the little banks were profitable; both ranked at the top of state and national lists.

Wurlitzer hand-delivered business statements, completed transactions if a line was forming and even cut the grass.

“I like the personal relationship with customers and participating in community life,”he told the Milwaukee Journal in 1978.

Wurlitzer died of pneumonia Oct. 15. He was 85.

A native of California, he began his banking career in 1947. In 1953, he was hired by First Wisconsin in Milwaukee. But it was his dream to own a bank.

Wurlitzer purchased controlling interest in Citizens Bank of Delavan in 1968. He did the same with Sharon State Bank in 1970.

Still working in Milwaukee at the beginning, Wurlitzer and his wife, Margaret, would drive to Delavan on Friday night to work at the bank Saturday. Margaret worked as a teller, and when they were old enough, some of Wurlitzer’s children did, too.

“I was so proud of him as a banker,” daughter Wendy Evans Wurlitzer said. “In second grade, they asked, ’What do you want to be when you grow up,’ and everyone said ‘teacher’ or ‘policeman,’ and I said ‘banker.’ ”

“I respected him a great deal.”

Daughter Amy Hopkins said her father would always make his lunch the night before. He’d even leave out a bowl of cereal without milk in it.

“He was so eager to get to the bank,”she said. “He absolutely loved that business.”

Wurlitzer was hands-on at the bank, said Charles Spooner, who served on the Delavan bank board of directors for 25 years.

“There was nothing that was beneath his dignity,” Spooner’s wife, Hesperus, said. “It was his bank, and he was having a wonderful time . . . And he communicated that to everyone who came into that bank.”

Wurlitzer came from a wealthy family. He was the great-grandson of brewing magnate Capt. Frederick Pabst and the great-grandson of Rudolph Wurlitzer, who founded the iconic jukebox company.

But he lived modestly, and as such, he respected those trying to get a start.

Instead of turning to creditors, Wurlitzer, who often lent on character, would call or stop by the houses of people who were late on a loan payment.

“He really watched out for people,” Hopkins said. “He wanted them to do well.”

Wendy, who worked at the Delavan bank for more than a decade and even served as chairwoman, said she used to take customers’ past-due status personally.

“I would be a little upset . . . but my father always tried to work with customers, understand that sometimes . . . people hit hard times,” she said.

The two banks were sold to Marshall & Ilsley Corp. in 1994, and the Wurlitzers worked there a little longer.

In addition to daughters Wendy Evans Wurlitzer and Amy Hopkins, survivors include daughters Heidi Wurlitzer, Kristina Harvey and Margaret “Kipsy” Steinmetz. A son, Prescott Pabst Wurlitzer, died earlier. Wife Margaret died Sept. 9.

A private service was held. About 40 people attended. There was no eulogy.

“He wanted it small,” Steinmetz said.

Last updated: 11:40 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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