Steve Gilmer to be honored April 10 as Delano’s citizen of the year
By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN Steve Gilmer is not your typical bank president.
Just about anyone who has known Steve through his involvement with things like the United Way, the Delano Fourth of July Celebration, the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce, or at Delano United Methodist Church will likely agree with that.
Believing that “when one volunteers for something, you get back far more than you give,” Steve has never been afraid to jump in and get the job done and, have fun doing it.
Whether it be handling the finances at the Fourth of July Celebration, milling around Central Park checking in to see how the various booths are doing, or coordinating the chamber’s annual dinner banquet for a number of years, showing up in a toga or as Roy Orbison, his sense of humor parallels his strong work ethic.
When Jeanie Pilarski of the General Federated Women’s Club of Delano called Steve and told him he had been nominated and then selected as the 2010 citizen of the year of Delano, he said it is a tremendous honor, and he immediately thanked her.
“Over the years, we’ve had so many really outstanding citizens of the year that have contributed so much to Delano, so I feel humbled that I get this honor,” Steve said.
One of those past winners includes Steve’s father, Don Gilmer, who was named Delano’s Citizen of the Year in 1985.
“Community involvement can be an inherited value from our parents,” Steve said. “My father was mayor and on the utility commission for many years while being the largest employer in Delano as owner of the Delano Granite Works.”
Steve said he tries to make it to every one of the citizen of the year banquets in Delano “just because it’s fun to learn about a lot of the things people have done and contributed that people don’t even know about,” citing some recent winners including Ted May last year, and Clarence “Deacon” Bruhn, and Donna Anderson.
“I’ve known these people forever,” Steve said. “I grew up in Delano, went to school in Delano, and I’ve been living here almost all my life. I’ve known all the citizens that have received it, but I like to learn more about them.”
About the only time Gilmer hasn’t lived in Delano was when he attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, worked for Chrysler Corporation in Detroit for several years, and also served in the United States Army for a little over two years at Fort Benning, GA.
“I came back after getting out of the Army in 1973,” Steve said. That same year, Don Gilmer had sold the family business, the Delano Granite Works, and bought State Bank of Delano.
“My dad and his father started the Delano Granite Works in 1917 in a small building in downtown Delano,” Steve said. “My father sold that in 1973 and bought the bank, and that’s when I came back to work with him at the bank.”
At that time, the bank was located where MacLean Law is today in downtown Delano on Bridge Avenue. In 1976, it moved to the building that presently houses the Delano Public Library, and in 2002, it moved to its present home off Highway 12.
Looking at the community he has called home a majority of his life, Steve said, “by far, the biggest thing that’s changed is the new residential housing developments, which is a positive. Another big thing that has changed is the downtown. When I was a kid, we had five grocery stores in downtown Delano, three bars, and three hardware stores.
He cites a change in people’s commuting patterns as the main reason a small town cannot support business at that level.
“As the community grew, it became more of a bedroom community,” Steve said, adding that “big box” stores have replaced a lot of small retail stores and small grocery stores that could once survive.
In what Steve admits has been the toughest year of his career as a banker, he said, “it’ll pick up, but I think it’ll be a slow recovery.”
“I think it can only improve, but it will be a slow recovery because there’s such an abundance of housing available all over not just Delano, but in every county surrounding the metro area,” he continued. “The farm crisis did not really affect us; other recessions didn’t really affect us; but this recession has affected all levels of the economy manufacturing, retail, housing, construction, and all areas that we’ve been involved in, so it’s been more tricky.”
He said he expects a full recovery, but said it may be a couple of years yet.
This will happen, he said, by continuing to serve existing customers, and “treat them with the respect and service that we’ve given them in the past and they deserve.”
That level of respect and service is something Gilmer has passed on to his middle child, Wendy Gilmer, who is the vice president at the State Bank of Delano. She considers herself lucky to be working side-by-side with her father and learning from him.
“I feel very humbled and lucky,” Wendy said. “The depth of his knowledge in banking is impressive. He is competent and measured in his approach and keeps a great sense of humor. He is guided by his belief in the community and its people.
“He really encourages and supports all employees to contribute to the community. He knows that each individual’s efforts make a difference. That is inspiring.”
Jumping right in with Delano’s Fourth of July Celebration
Along with being named the vice president of State Bank of Delano in the early 1970s, Steve also immediately joined the Fourth of July Celebration Committee something he has been a part of the last 38 years.
“It started my first summer here,” Gilmer recalled. “I arrived in May and I was the treasurer for that first year in ‘73.
“The previous treasurer moved away from Delano, and my father volunteered me for the job,” Gilmer added with a laugh.
He said, over the years, the celebration itself really hasn’t changed much.
“We’ve always had the parade, we’ve always had softball tournaments, we’ve always had baseball tournaments . . . it has gotten somewhat larger, but not a lot larger,” Gilmer said. “We’re celebrating our country’s birthday. It (the celebration) fortunately has been very successful and, last year, even during this recession, was the best year we’ve ever had. I think it’s people wanting to stick around rather than traveling too far out of town.”
Steve said the celebration draws a very large number of people from out of town.
“They have so much fun, and word of mouth is huge,” he explained. “Every year people come, they go back and tell other people. We have improved the quality of our bands, and that’s a big item, just the music we have. That attracts more people.”
In his 38 years, he said there has never been a rain-out of a celebration, and never a rain-out of a parade.
Several years back, there was one day that was a rain-out, but he said the celebration recovered on the other days.
“People just come on another day,” Steve said. “A lot of people only come to Delano for one day. They don’t keep coming every day. Whether we run a three-day celebration or five- day celebration, it seems the volume revenues are about the same.”
He said the Fourth of July Celebration, essentially, is like putting on a party for the whole community.
“It is also a successful fundraiser for several community organizations that support our youth, business development, athletics, sportsmanship, and people in need,” Steve said.
Steve’s right-hand-man for his Fourth of July duties is Tim Diem of Delano who, like Steve, became a part of the Fourth of July Celebration because of his father, the late Bill Diem.
Bill Diem served on the Fourth of July committee for 35 years, 30 of which he was chairman. Tim became involved directly with the celebration in 2003.
“I’m the assistant Steve does all the hard stuff,” Tim Diem said with a laugh. “I help him count money.”
For Tim, it was no surprise when he learned Steve had been named Delano’s citizen of the year.
“You see him working all over the place with community events,” Tim said. “He’s not just a business in the community he’s always supported the community. He’s always really involved.”
In working closely with Steve over the celebration and in the year building up to it each summer, Tim said his personality is one thing that stands out about Steve.
“When you think of the stereotypical bank owner, Steve isn’t that,” Tim said. “You’ll see photos of Steve wearing a toga that’s a great quality about him is his personality. He’s not your stiff bank owner he’s very much about having fun and is a good guy to work with.”
Tim joked that he hopes the banquet hosted by the GFWC in Steve’s honor will be a roast so stories about Steve can be shared.
If one were to add up his years of service to the Fourth of July Celebration, Steve said it would equal about six months of his life.
Gilmer keeps his community very close to his heart
Steve was also a driving force in bringing the United Way into the Delano area in 1982.
“Previous to that, we had a community chest, but when you get the national focus of the United Way, it just improved our ability to fund raise,” Steve said. “The United Way contributes to so many other charitable needy organizations . . . it’s always just been fun to contribute to things like that.”
He still serves on the United Way’s board of directors, and was its president from 1982 to 1987.
Gilmer has also been involved with various programs at Delano Public Schools, including serving as a student mentor from 1999 to 2003, an American Field Service chaperone from 1979 to 1982, helped organize the school’s gifted and talented program in the early 1980s, and was an omnibus program instructor in economics and famous cities of the world from 1979 to 1982.
“I participated in it because all kids, then and now, need adult guidance beyond what they learn in the classroom, and it gives some of the kids experiences outside the classroom,” Steve said of his mentoring and involvement with the schools. “It’s a very important thing for the kids. Things like that make the kids more interested in school, so that they will stay in school rather than drop out. There is very little drop out in Delano. It just gives the students more well-roundedness.”
Steve also served as a Community Education board member from 1980 to 1983, and also on the board of directors of Functional Industries in Buffalo from 1978 to 1992, and the vice chairperson from 1984 to 1992. His wife, Cherryl, then took over his seat on the board for Functional Industries.
Steve has also been a longtime member of the Delano American Legion, Delano Community Development Corporation, Wright County Bankers Association, Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota and of America, the Minnesota Bankers Association, the American Bankers Association, and the Bank Holding Company Association.
In his childhood, he earned the honor of Eagle Scout and also served with the Boy Scouts from 1996 to 2001 as a district director.
A lifetime member of Delano United Methodist Church, Steve is a former administrative board chairman, trustee, financial secretary, and has served on other committees, as well. He was also president of the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce in 1986.
Gilmer the family man and travelin’ man
Steve married Cherryl in 1967 after meeting at St. Olaf College.
Originally from Richfield, Cherryl, and Delano native Steve, both went to the University of Michigan for graduate degrees.
Cherryl works at Courage Center in Golden Valley as the coordinator of volunteers and will be completing her 25th year this year.
“She was thrilled,” Steve said when he told Cherryl about the citizen of the year honor. “She said it’s a long-time deserving.”
Steve and Cherryl have three children Laura, who teaches fourth grade at the Blake School; Wendy, who is the vice president of State Bank of Delano; and Ryan, who lives in Plymouth.
Wendy is married to Jake Stewart, and the couple has two children Jackson, 5, and Bjorn, 2, with a third on the way.
Steve said Cherryl is planning on retiring in October, and enjoys babysitting Wendy and Jake’s children. Steve said he “has a few years to go yet” before he retires.
When he’s not working, volunteering, or spending time with his family, he enjoys fishing, golfing, skiing, snowmobiling, gardening, and raising wild flowers especially lady slippers. He’ll also take an occasional hunting trip with folks like John Tackaberry of Delano and others, and has been spotted at several concerts by Minneapolis-based rock band The Trashmen.
Traveling to unique countries is also one of Steve and Cherryl’s favorite hobbies.
“We have been to Russia five times,” Steve said. “The first time was in 1993 as a delegate to the International Banking Conference in Moscow.”
No matter where his travels lead him, he will always find his way back to Delano, which is a place he is proud to call home.
“We have a community to be proud of because many people care enough to get involved. I am only one of many,” Steve said, “and, if one can make a difference, that feels good.”