Dean C. Banker was liberated from this life on Monday, April 16, 2012, fittingly the 67th anniversary of his liberation from a World War II prison camp.
Dean was born on November 12, 1925 in a Hays hospital, to L.W. “Wog” and Bernice Henthorn Banker, joining older brother, Louis. Despite his birth in Hays, Dean was the third generation of his family to live & work in and be a spirited supporter of Russell, Kansas.
Dean joined the Boy Scouts as a young boy and lived “God, Duty and Country” the rest of his life. He attained the rank of Eagle Scout, attended Philmont camp and made a canoe trip to Canada. Dean attended Russell schools, graduating in 1943. Dean enrolled as a freshman at the University of Kansas, where he was a yell leader (Rock Chalk!).
As with other members of “The Greatest Generation”, duty to his country called and Dean was drafted into the U.S. Army in December 1943. After training camp (where he caught pneumonia and was fighting for his life), Dean was shipped overseas. In the first battle of his combat career, he was captured by Germans (as a result of following his orders to remain at his post, when the rest of his unit had retreated without him). He spent three months in prison camp in Northern Germany, where his irrepressible spirit made his German guards grin. A British Tank unit liberated him on April 16, 1945, with Dean weighing just 87 pounds. His family celebrated his return to Russell as a Christmas in July, complete with winter coats, a traditional Christmas dinner (difficult to do with war-time rationing), Christmas decorations, Christmas caroling and (Ivory) snow on a hot July 4th.
After his discharge from the Army, Dean returned to the University of Kansas where he became a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity. Dean graduated in May 1950 with a degree in business (a major in high-jinks might have been more apt). After a short time working as a clothier in Kansas City, Dean moved back to Russell and joined his father in the family business, L.W. Banker Mercantile, a retail clothing store that had been started by Dean’s grandfather, Lou Banker in 1881. Dean became general manager and president of the board, all while producing unforgettable advertisements for radio and television for “the store”.
Dean didn’t shirk his duty to his community, serving on the City Library Board, City Zoning Board, the US School District #407 board (awarding a degree to his oldest daughter), the Russell State and UMB bank Boards and on the Chamber of Commerce. He was president of the Russell County Historical Society, and Rotary (where he also delivered the joke of the day). Dean had the idea for and developed the Russell Oil Patch Museum, as he believed it was important that history not be lost.
Dean liked people and he was a “joiner”. He was a member of Isis Shrine, Jesters, Red Cross Constantine and a 60-year member of the Masons. He was an active life member of the VFW and American Legion. Dean was an active and supportive member of Trinity United Methodist Church all his life, where he took great pride and enjoyment in singing loudly, as a good Methodist should.
Dean had the great good fortune to marry Aldean Knoche, his bride as he always called her, on June 24, 1956 in Stafford, Kansas (her hometown). Dean & Aldean had four daughters: Zoann, Priscilla, Amy & Sarah. He often introduced his family as Dean, Aldean and Nadene, Benzadrine, Coldine and Adaprene and explained that they weren’t Catholic, just careless Methodists. He also said often that he was the rose among all the thorns and called his family his “harem”.
Dean supported Senator Bob Dole, from the beginning of his political career (and even before…Senator Dole modeled in a Banker’s fashion show during high school). Dean was a member of the Republican Central Committee and very active in Dole’s campaigns. During Dole’s run for president in 1996, Dean was interviewed by media from around the world. Dean appeared in the Super Bowl 1997 Visa check television commercial with Senator Dole. Dean was always proud that his personal wardrobe was approved by the commercial director to be worn on camera.
Dean has been described as an icon, an institution and a legend. He loved to make people laugh and knew that every situation could be improved with humor. He loved a stage and bad jokes (no joke is good unless it makes the audience groan). He treated his customers, his friends, his neighbors and his fellow citizens with respect and courtesy. He could talk to anyone about anything and had a curiosity about life that kept him young. As he would have said, “It’s been a little chunk of heaven.”
Dean was predeceased by his mother, Bernice Henthorn Banker, his father, L.W. Banker, his brother, Louis H. Banker, his aunts, Theodora “Ted” Banker and Frances “Franc” Baker and his cousin Kate Lee Ewing. He is survived by his wife, Aldean Banker, his daughters, Zoann Banker Merryfield (Roger), Priscilla Banker, Amy Banker (Steve Hartbauer) and Sarah Banker (Jerry Sumner), his four grandchildren: Cassie Merryfield, Spencer Chase Merryfield, Elliot Banker-Sumner and Owen Chase Banker-Sumner and his cousins Jimmy Baker, Bobbi Wiley and Cindy Ewing.
A memorial service to celebrate Dean’s life will be held at 11 A.M. on Saturday, April 21, 2012, at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Russell with Pastor John Thompson officiating. Visitation is Friday, April 20, 2012, 9:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. at mortuary with the family present to greet guests from 6:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. Memorials can be made to the Russell County Area Community Foundation, directed to the Russell County Historical Society and sent to the mortuary. Pohlman-Varner-Peeler Mortuary of Russell is in charge of the memorial service arrangements.