People & Places

Morris Neighbor, who died at age 100, actively supported many organizations

Liz Martin/The Gazette

Morris Neighbor, photographed in his office in Marion in 2012.
Liz Martin/The Gazette Morris Neighbor, photographed in his office in Marion in 2012.
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During World War II, Morris Neighbor was sent to Europe with the 11th Armored Division of the U.S. Army, which fought in the Battle of the Bulge with General George Patton’s Third Army.

An engraved brick in Neighbor’s office at Farmers State Bank in Marion was a reminder of his involvement in the battle that helped turn the tide of the war.

Henry Royer, former chairman and president of Merchants National Bank (now U.S. Bank) in Cedar Rapids, said Neighbor was “a very unassuming, quiet guy, but he had a lot of experiences,” including helping to liberate the Mauthausen concentration camp.

But Gene Neighbor said his father, who was a member of Marion American Legion Post 298, did not talk about his wartime experiences.

“I can distinctly remember we were at some event during the Vietnam War,” Gene recalled. “He told someone that he served in the military so his children did not have to (serve).”

When Neighbor was honorably discharged and returned home in 1945, he had a Bronze Star and about $300 in his pocket.

“While he was returning home from the East Coast where the boat docked, he was on a train that derailed in Chicago,” Gene Neighbor said. “His first thought was, ‘I survived the war and now I’m going to die in a train wreck.’”

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Neighbor, chairman-emeritus of Farmers State Bank, was 100 when he died on Feb. 11. He would have celebrated his 101st birthday March 18.

Neighbor was active in the community, having served as a past president of the Marion YMCA, past chairman of the YMCA Metropolitan board of trustees and a past board member of the Granger House.

“Morris Neighbor was involved at the very start of the Marion YMCA,” said Bob Carlson, president and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Metro YMCA and the Helen G. Nassif YMCA. “He was a huge Y supporter for all of us.

“He did a wonderful job of passing that down to his children, who served on our board, and his grandchildren, who are serving on our boards.

“I would imagine that his great-grandchildren may also serve on our boards.”

Carlson said Farmers State Bank made a $500,000 donation to the building fund for the new Marion YMCA.

Gene Neighbor, Farmers State Bank president and CEO, said he and his siblings were led by their parents example of service to the community as they were growing up.

“Dad always had us believing that we work in the community and the community is our customer, and to reinforce that it is important to give back to the community,” Gene said.

Morris was a member of Trojan Lodge No. 548 and Alburnett Christian Church. In 2002, he was inducted into the Marion Independent School District’s Hall of Fame for his support in education and the city of Marion.

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Neighbor also made major philanthropic donations to the public libraries in Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha, the Marion and Alburnett Historical Museums, St. Luke’s Hospital, Linn-Mar and Marion School Foundations, the Alburnett Community Foundation and Lowe Park in Marion.

In 1995, Neighbor was recognized as a “50-year Banker” by the Iowa Bankers Association.

“Morrie was a good, conservative banker,” U.S. Bank’s Royer said.

“He helped Marion when the town needed help. That bank is a good, strong, conservatively run, well-managed company.“

Michael Dunn, chairman of F&M Bank in Manchester, also a family-owned bank, said Neighbor was a “quality banker, very honest and very prudent.”

He and Neighbor had known each other since 1974 when Dunn was working for a bank in Greene, just south of Charles City.

Jim Dyer, a local businessman, said Marion has lost a friend with Neighbor’s death.

“He helped many businesses succeed in life, and we were one of them,” Dyer said. “In 1962 we started Brown and Dyer Construction, and Farmers State Bank was the only bank that would give us a line of credit.

“Morris and FSB were there as the years passed by, and we built several businesses together. They were always there when we needed them.”

Stoking the furnaces

When Neighbor graduated from high school in 1935, during the Great Depression, he purchased a small panel truck, put in shelves and got a mechanic to position a rack on top.

“I had routes on Monday and Tuesday, came to Cedar Rapids on Wednesday to sell my fresh eggs, ran my routes on Thursday and Friday, and then I returned to Cedar Rapids each Saturday to sell more eggs,” Neighbor told The Gazette in a 2012 interview.

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“I had regular customers who wanted to buy fresh eggs and I sold them to a number of stores and restaurants in Cedar Rapids.”

After the war, Neighbor landed a job as a teller at Farmers State Bank in Alburnett, which recently had changed its name from Alburnett State Bank and moved its charter to Marion.

His early duties at the bank included taking out the ashes and stoking the furnace early each morning.

Working mornings at the Alburnett office and afternoons at the main bank in Marion, he gradually moved up the ladder, eventually becoming executive vice president.

In 1967, Neighbor and his wife, Betty, were offered the opportunity to purchase majority ownership of the bank. Merchants National Bank in Cedar Rapids was willing to loan them the money to buy the stock.

Neighbor, who became president of Farmers State in 1968, witnessed many economic peaks and valleys in the local and national economy over the years. The farm crisis of the early 1980s was a challenge for bankers, especially the president of a locally owned family bank.

Royer was asked by Holmes Foster, chairman of Banks of Iowa, corporate parent of Merchants National, to approach Neighbor about selling Farmers State Bank.

After discussing it with his wife, who believed their children might want to be bankers and noting the amount of taxes that would need to be paid on capital gains, Neighbor declined the offer.

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“Over the years, there have been several suitors who wanted us to sell to them and the answer has been the same all the way through,” Gene Neighbor said.

“We want to keep the bank in the family as long as we have family members that are interested and qualified. It needs to be a family-owned community bank.”

Under Morris Neighbor’s leadership, Farmers State Bank’s assets grew, from $19.4 million in 1968 to more than $650 million in 2012 when he relinquished the position of chairman to his oldest son, Kent.

Today, the largest family-owned community bank in Linn County has assets approaching $1 billion.

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