News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Liz Ciancone

September 21, 2010

MS. TAKES: Maybe it’s good that banks did not fail

TERRE HAUTE — I don’t like to write about politics. I’m not always right and I don’t think it’s getting anywhere trying to convince you that I am right and you are not. However, age and a long memory should count for something — if only experience.

I was a child, but old enough to see what was going on around me during “The Great Depression.” (Not that there was anything great about it unless you count the level of fear and concern). At any rate, Dad was gainfully employed throughout the ordeal. The difference I noted, but really didn’t connect to economic conditions at the time, was that many of Dad’s former shipmates and Mom’s Uncle Frank came to stay with us for varying lengths of time. Mom saw that they were fed and Dad tried to find them a bit of work. Then, when they got “back on their feet,” they were off and heard from only at Christmas.

The headlines were beyond my ability to read or comprehend, but I heard Mom and Dad and our visitors talking about how the banks were closing and there were no jobs to be had. I was given to understand that the small account opened in my name when I was born had been lost when the bank in Ottawa closed. I think Mom and Dad lost money then too, but that’s only a guess.

One of my most vivid memories was at breakfast one morning. Dad gave Mom his check and asked her to deposit it in the checking account. I remember Mom expressing concern over the rash of bank closings, but Dad insisted, “Oh, don’t worry. Old Willis is good for it.”

That was on a Friday. Monday morning the local paper headlined the news that “Old Willis’ bank” had joined the banks closing. I remember Dad asking Mom if she had any money since he did not. She went to the buffet and brought forth the entire amount of his check — in cash.

Dad was about half angry that Mom had not done as he had asked, but even he had to admit that her action had saved a lot of embarrassment. The checking account was gone, as was the savings. The parents of my friends were not so lucky and hard times hit us all by association.

I mention all this to suggest that maybe the current bailout of banks was not a bad idea. In 1932 both the big guys and the little guys were wiped out. Maybe saving the banks this time has enabled both to keep their heads above water.

OK, sure, it was not a good move for the big guys to reward themselves with taxpayer money by voting themselves fat bonus checks. But if a few little guys were saved, it seems a good idea on average.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to

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