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Goodbye, Gordon ’66 McHi grad

Old school banker

By G. Romero Wendorf

In a lot of ways, I hate to see old friends retire, because it reminds me that I, too, am growing older. But such is the case with longtime local Banker Gordon Jenkins, a guy I first met back in 1983 when he worked for Security State Bank in downtown Pharr, where the four-story city hall sits today. The old bank was a single-story structure back then, and everybody knew everybody. Banking regulations were relatively simple. There weren’t 10 forms to sign for every banking transaction, and a 5-year CD rate was paying approximately 12 percent. Life was good.

“All good things must come to an end,” says Jenkins today, whose official retirement from Rio Bank begins Jan. 1. “But I would like to thank the people of McAllen, Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, Edinburg and the surrounding communities for their friendship, support, patronage and business during my 40-year career in banking. It has always been a privilege for me to help you in your endeavors. I want to thank Ford Sasser, Rio’s Directors, Officers and employees for a wonderful run these past 15 years.”

Unusual in the banking world, Jenkins has only worked for two banks his entire career: Security and Rio.

“Even though I’ll be retiring from banking at the end of December to devote time and energy to my family ranching and farming operations, I intend to continue to be active in the community and civic organizations,” he says.

The only thing to perhaps forgive him for is for his decision early on to become an Aggie. Of all the colleges and universities in Texas, he had to choose College Station? Jenkins can take a joke.

“Going there was the right choice,” he says. “Once an Aggie, always an Aggie.”

In fact, after his graduation from McHi in 1966, it was on his initial ride to College Station for an orientation where he got the idea to get into finance. He drove there with a friend and his dad. The friend’s dad was well versed in business and had made a success out of small business.

“To this day I remember him telling me, no matter what business or career I choose, everything centers around finance. And I took those words to heart and made that my major.”

For those who have been around these parts for any length of time Gordon Jenkins is known as a straight shooter. In fact, while writing this column, I called a friend of mine who graduated from McHi, same school as Jenkins, just to get his impression of the guy. The two are two years apart. My buddy graduated in ’68; Jenkins in ’66. But he knows a lot of people. So I fgured he’d know Gordon.

“Hey,” I asked, “do you know Gordon Jenkins?”

I mean Gordo’s not like Othal was, not everyone knows him, but a lot do.

“I do know him,” said my buddy. “Always a straight shooter, A-plus, a good guy. He plays it straight.”

Then I called another friend who happens to be a banker.

“Great guy. Straight shooter.”

Which is what most people say who know Jenkins if you ask them about him. From the old-school days when your handshake was your word, and your word was your bond. That’s the way Jenkins was raised, and from what I’ve seen, the way he’s lived his life.

His roots in south Texas go way back. All the way to the 1800s when, on his mom’s side, two of the Valley’s premiere families got together – the J. J. Cavazos side and the Cardenas side. Both were in the possession of Spanish land grants that dated back to the 1700s, and if you look up Valley history, both names can be found.

His mom married his dad, an Anglo from Maine, when the two happened to meet one bright sunny day up in Corpus in the early 1940s while WWII was raging. His dad, still alive today at 92, was a tail gunner on a torpedo-bomber. He ended the war with more planes shot down to his credit than any other tail gunner fying the Pacifc. Then he branched out into aircraft engineering while Jenkins’ mom managed the land properties in and around south Texas.

Gordon’s one of those guys who’s got more stories to tell than you have time to listen. Valley history coming out of his ears. Fluent in Spanish, he knows both cultures inside and out – Anglo and Hispanic.

“This area’s bi-culture make-up is part of what makes the Valley so unique,” he says. “And I think the future here is the brightest it’s ever been. So much going on. There’s nothing stopping us now.”

Fresh out of college, he took a job with Security State Bank when L. Nathan Winters was the president and the bank was owned by the Looney family.

With a fresh face in town, it wasn’t long before guys like Lloyd Glover, former publisher of the old Pharr Press, was seeking him out for community duty. Over the years, his community involvement has include:

• Secretary of the Pharr Rife & Pistol Club -- 10 years.

• Pharr Kiwanis Club: president for several terms and secretary/treasurer for 14 years. Today, he’s still a member & secretary ( 38 years ).

• Pharr Chamber of Commerce: Member, 26 yrs. -- served as chairman for one term & sat on the board of directors for several years.

• Pharr Executive Club -- ( Founding Member) -- served as chairman (a member 24 years).

• Salvation Army – “Bob Comprere & Lloyd Glover put me in as chairman of the Pharr Unit.”  

• Boy Scouts – Adult Troop Leader (Parent Advisor) – St. Marks Church;  Troop 7  (5 years).

• Elected Official – vice president/secretary -- Hidalgo Irrigation District # 13.  Edinburg (28 years).

After Security was sold, it went through two more bank ownerships before Gordon decided he wanted to return to working for a locally owned bank. He had known Ford Sasser for many years, so Rio Bank was a natural ft. And there he’s remained for the past 14 years, spending most of those years as the president of the San Juan branch on Hwy. 495.

His education includes a bachelor’s degree in finance from Texas A & M and an MBA from the former UT-Pan Am. He also attended the banking school of the south and has a Texas insurance license (Group 1).

He’s been happily married to his wife, Catherine, for many a moon and has three wonderful children to show for it.

“Life’s been a blessing,” he says. “The trick is to never slow down, treat people the way you’d like to be treated, and never compromise your principles. Also, do what you can to give back to your community whenever you’re afforded the chance.”

Back in 1983 when I first met him, I was 27 and Gordon was 35. Now I’m 60 and Gordon is 68. My only complaint is, why is it that Gordon looks younger?

“I’m always on the go,” he says. “Up at the ranch, I’m always working. And that’s how I plan to spend my retirement. Still working. Only instead of banking, it will center on the farm-and-ranching business.”

An old-school banker, his bond is his word, we’ll miss seeing you at the bank, Gordon. As Spock would say: May you live long and prosper.

Advance Publishing Company

217 W. Park Avenue
Pharr, TX 78577
Phone: 956-783-0036
Fax: 956-787-8824