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Forty-five years ago her opportunity came knocking

Marilee Spinks is retiring after a 40-plus year career at the River Falls State Bank. She went from being a recent high school graduate to teaching American Institute of Banking courses.

In 1969 Marilee Steltzner was a young bride, fresh out of high school when one summer evening a bank vice president showed up and invited her for an interview.

“Don Larson came to our apartment, knocked on the door and said, ‘We want you to come interview for a job,’” recalls Marilee, whose last name is now Spinks and who’s preparing to retire after over 42 years at the River Falls State Bank.

“We couldn’t afford a telephone so he couldn’t even call,” said Marilee. She had replied by letter to a “blind” help wanted ad in the River Falls Journal. While she knew the company wanted an accountant, the advertisement didn’t say who the employer was or even what kind of business it was.

“I don’t think I even had a resume back then,” said Spinks, who had to make her employment contacts in person.

She had graduated from high school just a couple of months earlier and was working part-time as a nurse’s aide at what was then the Hilleren nursing home in River Falls.

She admits she felt intimidated and was hesitant to interview.

She told her husband: “I can’t do that. Bankers are smart. They are, you know, bankers.” But he encouraged her to try.

After Larson’s visit, she interviewed with him and State Bank President E.S. Davison and was offered a job on the spot.

“I think it was just meant to be,” said Spinks. “It (taking the job) was the best decision I ever made in my life.”

She was born and raised in Rice Lake. Her first husband was from Cumberland and was attending college in River Falls.

When they married between her junior and senior year, she moved to River Falls and finished her fourth year of high school here.

Spinks -- who had taken office management, bookkeeping and stenography classes in high school -- said the bank’s other two bookkeepers trained her for her new job.

“They pretty much showed me what they knew,” she said, noting that banking regulations were continually changing. “We trained ourselves as they kept coming toward you.”

She began work in the summer of 1969 and took time off from 1972-1974 as her children were born.

Spinks came back to the bank in 1974, became head bookkeeper in 1975 and remained in that position for 12 years.

That was followed by five years as head teller and then working as deposit compliance officer and in human resources and customer service until four years ago. In 2010 her job changed again, and Spinks began devoting all her time to compliance and human resources.

The skills she learned at the bank let to another endeavor, teaching evening classes for the American Institute of Banking for 20 years from 1980 to 2000.

Spinks was named to the board of the Wisconsin Association of Bankers, a new organization for the upper Midwest, and the association was expected to offer classes in banking.

“I couldn’t find a teacher,” said Spinks. So she wrote a three-week class that she would teach herself.

The course was sponsored by Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and Chippewa Valley Technical College. Representatives of both attended her first class, which Spinks said had “a motivational twist.”

The representatives loved it, said Spinks, and she was hired to teach for both technical colleges.

“It just kind of snowballed from there and was a huge part of my life,” said Spinks. Over the years she taught sessions in principles of banking, personal banking, money and banking, law and banking and customer service skills, often for retail sales people.

The courses, most of which were developed by AIB, helped Spinks stay current in her own job: “If you’re going to teach it, you’ve got to know it.”

She added, “The good part was once you taught it … you didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, just add the new things that came into banking regulations.”

Along with serving eight years on the Wisconsin Bankers Association Board, Spinks was River Falls Chamber of Commerce president in 2000 and 2001 and Tuesday Club president the same years.

Now with 12 years of experience in human resources, Spinks said she wouldn’t hesitate to hire someone right out of high school as she was -- if the personality seemed right.

“(Banking) is its own unique animal,” said Spinks. “So much of it is on-the-job training.”

For the complete story, please see the March 27 print River Falls Journal.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

(715) 426-1049