Immigrant Stories: From bridge to banking in Glenwood Springs
Former Glenwood Springs mayor Don Vanderhoof tells his story to Walter Gallacher’s Immigrant Stories.
Vanderhoof: The Vanderhoofs started in Holland; our family name was originally Van der Hoven. Cornelius Van der Hoven and his brother tried to overthrow the government and failed. They were both executed, and their wives and their six children were banished to the New World. They arrived in New Amsterdam, which is now New York City, in 1648.
Over the next 300 years or so their descendants slowly migrated west and came into Pennsylvania, Illinois and scattered all over the Midwest. Our people settled in Paola, Kansas. My grandfather Luther was born and raised in Paola and ended up marrying the richest girl in town. She was the daughter of the district judge.
They farmed around eastern Kansas and, in 1905, moved to Hugo, Colorado, where they dryland farmed. My dad, Roy, and his brother, Tom, were born in Kansas, but the other three kids were born in Colorado.
Eventually, they moved to Rocky Ford, which was a much bigger town. My grandfather ended up working in the sugar factory in Rocky Ford.
Gallacher: Dryland farming in eastern Colorado wasn’t an easy life.
Vanderhoof: It was a very, very hard life. My dad told me that, when he was a kid, one of his chores in the morning was to go out and kill any rattlesnakes in the yard.
We had a family reunion a few years back, and we went out and found the old homestead. Standing in that yard and looking 360 degrees, as far as I could see there was nothing but bleakness. I don’t know how they survived in that place.
My dad said that when they moved to Rocky Ford it was like moving to a lush paradise compared to the dryland farm. My dad went to school in Rocky Ford and fought in France during World War I.
After the war, he came back to Rocky Ford and married his sweetheart, Irene Church, and they got into the melon wholesale business. They went out and bought fields of cantelope and melons and then they would harvest and sell them.
They traveled all over the West following the harvest season from Rocky Ford down into Arizona and out into California, where the season would end. They did OK, but they weren’t settin’ the world on fire. My mother said that the main thing she did during that time was pack and unpack.
Gallacher: So how did the Vanderhoofs get to Glenwood Springs?
Vanderhoof: Well, Dad and Mom eventually tired of the constant travel and farming. They moved to Fort Collins so that my brother, John, could go to high school. Dad got a job selling insurance, and we lived at the same address in Fort Collins until I was in the ninth grade.
Johnny graduated from high school and moved out to California to apprentice for a veterinarian that we knew. He planned to come back to Fort Collins and study to be a veterinarian, but the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Johnny joined the Navy’s air force and became a fighter pilot. That changed our lives completely. He was shot down twice by ground-fire. The first time he landed in Truk Bay near the Caroline Islands north of New Guinea and spent a day-and-a-half in a life raft, until a seaplane was able to pick him up.
He wasn’t seriously injured, so it wasn’t long before he was back in the air. Truk was a Japanese stronghold, so the pilots were taking heavy groundfire, and he was hit again. This time, he was hit by the tail of his plane when he bailed out, and it broke both of his legs.
Johnny woke up in the sick bay of a destroyer that had fished him out of the water. He was taken to Hawaii and eventually San Diego where he spent months recuperating. Finally, when he was well enough, the Navy transferred him to the naval hospital (Hotel Colorado) in Glenwood Springs.
When we got the letter that he was being transferred to Glenwood Springs, we had to get out the map because we had never heard of it. Two weeks later, we packed up and moved to Glenwood.
Gallacher: Did your family move then?
Vanderhoof: No, everything continued for a while, but Johnny quickly fell in love with the valley, and he convinced my dad to sell everything and come help him open Van’s Sporting Goods. Johnny and my dad both loved to hunt and fish, so Dad didn’t need much convincing.
I didn’t want to move. I was going into high school that fall, and I didn’t want to leave Fort Collins and all my friends. I started high school in Glenwood convinced that I would hate it, and I did for about two weeks until I realized I was going to have a lot more opportunities in a small school than I would in Fort Collins.
Dad and Johnny did really well in the sporting goods business, and it wasn’t long before Johnny started getting interested in politics. He was elected state representative in 1950 and eventually served as Speaker of the House. He served as John Love’s lieutenant governor from 1971 to 1973. When Love was chosen to serve in the Nixon administration, Johnny became governor and served until 1975.
Gallacher: So how did the family make the move from sporting goods to banking?
Vanderhoof: When Johnny was in the Legislature he met George Rock, a banker and a high-ranking Democrat. They became good friends, and George convinced him to start a bank.
Gallacher: When did you get involved?
Vanderhoof: They needed another person at the bank because Johnny was getting more involved in state politics. I was working for the Colorado Highway Department in Grand Junction, and Dad called me and convinced me to come work with them.
I came to work, and Johnny seldom saw the inside of the bank after that.
Gallacher: Did you like the banking business?
Vanderhoof: Yes, I liked it a lot. There was a lot of pressure, but I enjoyed the bookkeeping. I had a lot of help in the early days. Dan Handy, who was a local accountant, taught me a lot.
Over the years, the Glenwood Industrial Bank earned a good reputation for being a reliable community-oriented bank that made small loans to working people. But then there was a scandal involving a number of the industrial banks on the Eastern Slope. It was on the news and in the papers, and we prepared for a run on our bank. I went to the Bank of Glenwood and talked to them about borrowing money.
The day after the news hit statewide, we opened with our fingers crossed. We waited for the rush, but it turned out to be a typical day. The only people who mentioned the crisis were asking us how they could help. We had people offering to pull their money from other banks and depositing with us.
A local attorney came in and deposited $100,000 of a client’s money that he was overseeing. We didn’t know whether we were going to make it or not, at that time, so when the tellers told me about the deposit, I took the check and walked it over to the attorney’s office and gave it back.
The next day the attorney’s client came in and insisted on depositing the $100,000. He said he was willing to take the risk. That was an amazing time. We never had a dollar withdrawn as a result of the scandal.
Gallacher: That must have been a difficult time for you.
Vanderhoof: It really was. We were a good solid bank, but the scandal made us realize we needed to get out of the industrial banking business. So we started the FDIC accreditation process that was required to become a commercial bank.
It was very, very difficult to do, but we managed to get it done. I will never forget the day we got word that we were approved. We changed our name to Glenwood Independent Bank and grew so quickly we had to move to a larger building.
My son, Steve, joined the business and was a very positive influence. We ran the bank together for years until WestStar bank made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Gallacher: So when did you find time to volunteer in the community?
Vanderhoof: Our family decided when we first moved here that we were going to do whatever we could to be of service to the community and get involved.
So when I joined the bank I got active in the Chamber of Commerce. I served as chairman of Strawberry Days for 10 or 15 years and helped bring Drums Along the Rockies to Glenwood.
Gallacher: And you served eight years on City Council and part of that time as mayor.
Vanderhoof: That was towards the end of my banking career when I had a little more time. But, when I look back on my life now, I wish I had spent a little less time in community service and more time with my kids.
Gallacher: Is that one of your regrets?
Gallacher: Looking back, what are you proudest of?
Vanderhoof: Of all the things in my life, it’s my kids. There ain’t a bad egg in the bunch.