Have you ever been in a bank and heard someone joke about free samples? Diana Allen has heard that one about a million times, but she’s not complaining. Diana is retiring this Friday after 40 years at Great Western Bank, and says her customers are what she will miss most. Although the jokes haven’t changed much, many things have evolved since she began her banking career on October 29, 1979.
Diana remembers the day vividly. “My first day was all about learning, learning. So much to learn. Marwood Wise was the president of the bank — it was Dakota State Bank at that time — and I started out in bookkeeping by checking endorsements and proofs. There were lots of late nights in those days. I filed checks, ran checks through the proof, and pulled statements. I had to check off every check on the statement and business statements had to be mailed the very next day.”
Diana was ready to take on the challenge. After graduating from high school in Madison, Minnesota, she attended Canby Vo-Tech (now Minnesota West Community & Tech) to learn accounting and had worked as a key punch operator. She and her husband, Nick, moved to Milbank in 1975. Before landing the job at the bank, she worked at the Brite Spot (a diner in the building where All Points Travel is now), the Gallery restaurant, and the bakery at Bill’s Super Valu (now Hartman’s Family Foods).
Through the days and years, the bank stopped giving away toasters, people started using personal checks less and debit cards more, and Diana took on new responsibilities. One of them was training. She says, “I loved going to Colorado and Arizona to train people. Sometimes I would spend three weeks working there. One year, I was training in Colorado over my birthday and the staff threw me a big birthday party. It even included a train ride up the Royal Gorge.”
Technology brought more changes, challenges, and the need to learn. But would Diana go back to the way things were done early in her career? “No!,” was her immediate answer. Although, she laments she must now spend a lot of time with debit card disputes. She suggests, “Customers need to be more cautious in protecting their information and think about what they are ordering. Is it from another country? Credit card hacking has become so common.”
Technology didn’t change her belief in personalized service, though. Her most recent position has been as a personal banking officer, and she says, “One thing I do is help people set up their automatics. This separates Great Western from other banks because a lot of banks won’t do this. But, I am happy to take the time to call to help them. Personal service is still important.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed is Mother Nature. Although South Dakota features some of the worst weather in the nation, Diana says in the 40 years she has been employed at the bank, it has rarely closed due to bad weather. She recalls, “I would walk to work in storms or the bank president would pick me up. It had to be very, very bad to close because people used to do all their banking in the lobby.”
She’s not going to miss those snow days, but, says, “I have a lot of good memories. I can’t imagine not being out in the public every day, talking to people, and helping them with their banking needs. I will so miss my customers.”
Diana has interacted with thousands of customers and employees in four decades and has collected several totes of clippings and mementos. The memorabilia also includes her work with the Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce board, and Milbank’s first TrainFest. She says, “I have always wanted to put everything in a scrap book.” Retirement might just be the ticket to getting it done, but she’ll have to squeeze that in along with camping, traveling, and spending time with her family. Her children, Matthew and Linsey, both live in the Milbank area. She also has a 10-month old grandson. Judging from her unbridled enthusiasm about a future filled with Fischer Price toys and finger foods, that scrapbook might just take a back seat to a stroller ride.
Join Great Western Bank at an all-day Open House on Friday, January 31 to honor Diana and her 40-year career.