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An Original Hamelite looks back at 50 Years

Dec 21, 2018 11:43AM ● By Chris Pederson

A Young Hamelite

If you haven't already, meet Rick Traut, a member of the Hamel-Medina community for over 50 years. His story begins in the Sartell-St. Cloud area where he was born. Due to his mother’s mental illness, Rick was farmed out to different relatives and friends, living in five or six different places by the time he was six years old. "We moved down here in 1965 when I was 10 years old.” Rick jokes that he walked over one mile uphill each way to attend Holy Name School.

Rick speaks matter-of-factly. His earnest nature coming through as he recounts with remarkable detail the history of a community he knows as well as anyone. "I hung around with the Hamel kids. They called them 'Hamelites'. I played Peewee baseball, and Shorty’s brother, Julius Dorweiler along with Donnie Faue were my coaches. I lived in nearby Plymouth at 24 and 101 right on the corner and would ride my bike up to play ball. I also caddied at Rolling Greens Country Club. There were the Wayzata kids who were the privileged class and then the Hamelites who were the 'common' kids. A lot of the people who I grew up with still bank at Farmers State Bank, they’re second and third generations.”

Banking on Work and Serving the Community

Rick will be retiring as President of Farmers State Bank of Hamel this December, mere months before the bank, owned by the Dorweiler family, will celebrate its 100th year anniversary. Rick started in the banking industry when he was 18 years old. Prior to that he worked for Hamel Feed Mill and delivered horse feed for local horse owners. He worked at a tire shop on Wayzata Blvd and sold vegetables for a local farmer at a street corner while attending junior high and high school. Rick went to highschool with Shorty Dorweiler's sister, and he got to know Shorty’s father, C.O. Dorweiler while working on cars at their home. When a teller position opened up, the bank offered and Rick accepted the job. "They knew I could count money from my days at the vegetable stand. Back then I did just about everything from replacing light bulbs, bookkeeping, counting the checks and taking out the garbage."

Shortly after starting at the bank in 1973, Rick joined the Hamel Volunteer Fire Department. After serving only one year, Rick would bear witness to something awful. It was late in the afternoon on Monday, June 17, 1974. Rick was working on a vegetable farm off Lawndale Lane when he got the call. The Medina Ballroom had exploded and was on fire. Rick, alongside all the other Hamel firefighters were sent to help. The fire was caused when a spark ignited vapors from recently applied finish to the bowling alleys. The initial explosion knocked out the sprinkler system, within minutes the Medina Ballroom was consumed by flames. Though Rick would crack a rib and three others were injured, it was two young women who lost their lives that day, making it one of the worst tragedies in Medina history. 

After five years at Farmers State Bank, he left to work at Northwestern Bank's Osseo location where he would continue for another nine years in their collections department. "When I went to Maple Grove, I got a job as a full time collector and followed up on loan collections. The most I ever did in one week was seven repossessions. I had spent time in the Marine Corps so that helped ‘build up my courage.’ One time one of my LARGE marine corp buddies joined in a repossession." A10:00 pm stakeout was one his more memorable and intense repos. Rick then became a loan officer, then a manager of a new branch on 494 and Bass Lake Road. "We opened at a temporary office with a trailer that was like a mobile home. They brought the trailer on-site but they didn’t give us the keys, yet anyone could see the keys sitting on the teller counter. I had to take the  door off the hinges to get to them and unlocked the doors. When it rained the depository would get all wet and we’d have to lay out all the checks to dry. We worked 60 hours a week and as a manager, I didn’t get overtime. There were four name changes during the time I was there: Northwestern Bank Osseo, Northwestern Bank Northwest, Norwest Bank Maple Grove, Norwest Bank NA. “It seemed I was getting new letterhead with my name on it every six months.”

Though Rick's lifelong career may have been in banking, he has served the community in many roles throughout his life. When the Hamel Lion's Club was chartered in the late 1970’s, Rick served as their treasurer. He also coached tee-ball, despite not having kids at the time. He was on the American Legion and tended bar Thursday to Sunday at "The Medina" as it was known back then. "I’d leave the office Friday night at 7:00 pm and bartend until 1:30 am. Saturday morning I’d have to be at Fort Snelling by 6:30am for Marine Corps drill. Work the reserves all day long, then be back at work at Medina to do it all over again. It got to be long weekends." He was active in the Marine Corp for six months for boot camp and then training as a military policeman before spending 5 1/2 years in the reserves at Fort Snelling. "I had always wanted to be a police officer, but when I applied to be a policeman back in Medina, I didn’t get the job."

Watching Communities Grow and Change

He built his first house in Maple Grove in 1978 and his kids would attend school in the district. His second home was built two years later near Boston Scientific in Maple Grove. "I sold that one six years ago and moved to Zimmerman. It’s my special place,” he recalled with a flashing smile. In 34 years, he watched Maple Grove grow from a small town of 5,000 to a booming suburb of 60,000 people. A city where Bob’s Lookout was once the only place to eat is now home to over 100 restaurants and enough retail businesses to stake a claim as the consumerist capital of the greater Twin Cities metro. Rick returned to Farmers State Bank in 1987. He joined the Northwest Suburban Chamber where he served as president from 1990-1991. The chamber served Medina, Hamel, Loretto, Rockford, Corcoran, Greenfield and Plymouth. It was the Chamber for area businesses owners at the time. However, many in the Hamel area felt it was too broad and not serving their specific needs as a smaller community. Thus, in 1991 local business owner Pete Schmidt spearheaded the effort to start the Uptown Hamel Organization as an alternative to the Northwest Suburban Chamber of Commerce. As a group of businesses and individuals organized to engage in non-partisan, non-sectarian and non-profit activities, their mission included promoting the civic interests of the Hamel by working with the City of Medina to maintain current businesses and attract new ones. They sought to adopt positions that promote Uptown Hamel as a good place to live, shop and do business and work with other local organizations such as churches, schools and civic organizations to achieve this. They helped promote civic events and projects in the area and also sought to preserve and document the history of Uptown Hamel. The Uptown Hamel group continues to serve businesses in the community to this day, still meeting the third Tuesday of each month in the Hamel VFW, outlasting the Northwest Chamber of Commerce as its once renown predecessor.

Reviving Uptown Hamel

What is likely a bigger secret to many is the Uptown Hamel area, as we know it today, almost ceased to exist. Around the turn of the century, Uptown Hamel was referred to by some as the land that time forgot. With at least eight blighted properties flanked by rickety power lines along a main street in complete disrepair, some suggested it may better be served by a bulldozer. Yet others had a more bullish vision. Rick recalled walking with Shorty and councilperson Elizabeth Weir along the entire Uptown Hamel stretch from the American Legion to the Church of St. Anne's. Rick believed their conversation could have been the spark of the major redevelopment of Uptown Hamel. A revival mission was set in motion by those who felt it wasn't right to let the heart of Hamel, an area rich in small town tradition, local nostalgia and family histories, get swallowed up like so many others of its kind. As one of the longest standing businesses in the area, Farmers State Bank led the redevelopment initiative by example. They completely rebuilt a new bank building after tearing down one of those “blighted buildings.” "When we built this building in 2004 next to our existing building, people asked if we were crazy. We said, 'if we don't stay on main street, who will?’" Farmers State Bank invested not only significant money into their building, but took the time to build their new building in an image that would set the tone for the entire project. The city came through and buried power lines, put sidewalks in and fixed the streets. The facades of old buildings were updated and new buildings erected, such as the Hamel Community Center in 2005.  

The Great Recession

Then 2008 hit. Rick recalls it as being the toughest time in his career as a banker. Rick's voice turns to a more somber tone. "During the 2008 economy recession, it was a real struggle for a lot of people. I had my fiduciary responsibility to the bank but many of my customers were friends I'd had for 35-40 years. Sometimes you’d have to make decisions on something you wouldn’t want to do, but they were things you had to do. That’s part of it. And sometimes you have to make decisions regarding employees that you’d rather not make." Rick then starts to speak more optimistically. "Overall it’s worked out amazingly well. With a community bank we have the flexibility to do things. For example, during the slowdown we never had a single owner-occupied residential unit that we had to foreclose on or that was even past due. Not a single one. We never had to kick anyone out of their house. We never had to take away anyone’s business or liquidate anything. We worked with every single one of our builders, who were getting slaughtered at the time, but we worked with them and they came out of the recession whole. That’s the advantage of working in a community bank where we make the decisions locally, not regionally."

When Rick Isn't Working

From the early days of working multiple jobs at once while still finding time to volunteer in various capacities for the community, Rick admits to having spent more time working than most anything else. Though this was a conscious choice he made, he was nonetheless very excited when he discovered a new passion. "About 14-15 years ago I went to a class reunion, and some guys were flying ultra light planes. I contacted them after the reunion and was taken up on a flight and knew that was for me. With these things, you don’t need a pilot’s license. The guy sat in the back seat and there were dual controls set up to train people like me.” Rick is referring to a powered parachute, which is essentially a motorized flying tricycle with an engine and a parachute that allows one to fly between 500 and 1,500 feet off the ground at 25-35mph. "It was 80% of the reason I moved to Zimmerman. The property is ideal for a runway to fly my powered parachute." It is a fairly risky sport. Rick goes onto describe a tricky situation he recently found himself in. "I had my first power out, it was a pilot error but I landed. It just means your power goes out, I shift the power down in order to land. I didn’t have time to be scared, I’m always making sure I know where I’m going to land....should something happen. I ended up in a soybean field." He owns two powered parachutes. A single-seater and a double. "The single-seater weighs 250 pounds, I like to say you don’t fly it, you wear it."

Rick also enjoys motorcycles. "At a younger age I rode motorcycles, but gave it up when my kids were young. I took it back up in 2000-2001, when I went from a Honda to a Harley. My Honda was a beautiful gold wing, but the Harley cruiser is fun. I know there will be a day when I can’t hold up a 900 pound motorcycle.” Rick has taken multiple cross country motorcycle trips. One was a 12 day, 3600 mile trip through seven states and Canada. Last year he visited the Ozarks, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. He plans to go to the Grand Canyon next year after retiring.

Retirement

With a career in banking spanning over 45 years, two powered parachutes in his possession and motorcycle trips planned, it is only natural Rick would want to retire.  However, it seems his two year old grandson may be the most significant reason for his choice to retire now. "Ever since he’s been born I try to spend some time with him once a week. I’ve only missed 3-4 weeks where I haven’t seen him. His name is Johan and his birthday is September 22, 2016. People try to pronounce it ‘YoHon’ but we pronounce it ‘JoHon.’ He loves motors, he calls me ‘Papa Vroom Vroom.’ When I retire, I hope to stay on the board of directors for the bank.  I have agreed to work as a consultant. I’ve worked with many customers for 40 years and can access information remotely so I won’t need to come as much.”

Aside from spending time with Johan and his motor hobbies, Rick plans to travel back to Mexico to see more pyramids as well as Machu Picchu in Peru.  "I’m 63 and in fairly decent shape. I want to do all this while I can still get around. I also plan to work on our 50 acre hobby farm. I love making trails. We have deer, bear, coyotes, fox, raccoon and opossum. We’ve had 35 deer at a time at our feeder during the winter when they’re starving. I don’t like the muskrats. They chewed my dog up on Easter morning three years ago. Emergency vets love it when you call on Easter morning. It’s their Porsche payment,” he jokes.

Reflecting on the Past

When asked if he would do anything different if he could do it all over again, Rick responded candidly. "I worked hard, probably too hard at times, gave up things that I shouldn’t have. I do regret that at times. If I had advice for young people, my #1 priority was shared between family and business, but I wouldn’t do that again. I’ve never had a week since I was 14 where I haven’t worked. I worked at Hamel Bank, Medina Ballroom, Inn Kahoots when it was called The Hill. I don’t know that I would have worked that many hours if I could do it all over again. I’ve been involved in the community, was in Hamel Lions, the Maple Grove Lions, the Fire Department, American Legion, the Maple Grove Rotary Club and Maple Grove Police Reserve. It’s been rewarding, I’ve made friends that hopefully are for life." As a person who has devoted more than most to his customers and his community, I think it is safe to say that Rick has made many friends for life.

Retirement is often described as opening a new chapter in life. However, in Rick's case, it seems he has already written enough chapters in his life to have earned himself a completely new book. One that doesn't involve work as he has always known it. Rather, a book of dreams that he's been investing in for years, but only recently has allowed himself the freedom to begin writing. With that said, and on behalf of  the Hamelites, Medina residents, businesses and countless others you've touched in the in the last 50 years, thank you. Thank you for your dedication and the generous time you've put in to helping make this City what it is today. You are not only part of the forever fabric of the community, but also one that has taken care to always weave others into it along the way.
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