Sunday Profile: Ernie Gerbaz: A humble rise to the top
Ernie Gerbaz is a self-made man if there ever was one.
Shortly after marrying his wife, Marjorie, in 1951, he was turned down for a home loan by First National Bank in Glenwood Springs, where he worked. Over the next 40 years, he not only bought and paid off the house, he rose through the ranks until, in 1977, he became president of the same bank.
He retired from the bank in 1990, and the couple now have three children, four grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. They live on Palmer Avenue in a beautiful Victorian-style house they helped build themselves, across the street from the house that the old president didn’t think they could afford.
They’ve come a long way without ever having to move very far.
Marjorie grew up just down the street, helping deliver copies of the Glenwood Post in an era when Glenwood didn’t go much farther south than the 12th street ditch. In the summer, ranchers drove cattle and sheep down the middle of Grand Avenue. In the winter, cars had to steer around a Christmas Tree at the intersection with 9th Street.
Ernie was born on his grandparent’s ranch near Woody Creek in 1930, but lived with his other grandparents, the Arbaneys, south of Carbondale after his father died in 1931.
He went to first and second grade in Carbondale, and spent his summers living in a two-room cabin in Coal Basin, visiting the abandoned town that still stood there. In 1938, the family bought a ranch near the Redstone Castle. Sometimes the roads weren’t plowed, so they walked to school along the railroad tracks, keeping an eye out for “Sagebrush Annie,” the train from Carbondale to Marble. Shortly before they moved to Satank in 1943, he recalls watching bits of Marble wash down the Crystal River in the aftermath of a flood.
Ernie graduated from Carbondale Union High School in 1948. He put in his time at ranches, a saw mill and a tire shop, and in 1950 he got a job operating a posting machine at First National Bank for $95 a month.
DRESSED FOR COURTING
The same year, he met Marjorie, when his brother began courting her sister.
“I can still see him standing there in a red wool shirt and brown pants,” she recalled.
He asked her to the Saturday night dance.
“He didn’t dance. I didn’t dance. But we sure wanted to go,” Marjorie said.
They got married at the Methodist Church in 1951 and rented an apartment on Blake for $45 per month. All of Marjorie’s wages from J.C. Penny and some of Ernie’s $125 monthly wage after his promotion to teller went to savings. When their application for a loan was denied by the bank, they approached the “Italian bankers” — local ranchers who used the interest to help make ends meet through the winters.
With their savings and a lot of hard work, they paid the house off in seven lean years. Ernie took extra jobs painting houses, sanding floors and counting cars at the drive-in, and he kept the family fed on deer during hunting seasons.
“Our staple diet was the meat caught and potatoes bought from the Jammarons by the 100-pound sack, and the garden that Marjorie grew vegetables and fruit that she canned herself,” Ernie said. “Our entertainment was limited to the hills, occasionally the A&W Root Beer stand, and rarely we went to a drive-in movie.”
“There were very few luxuries,” Marjorie recalled. “I didn’t have fancy clothes and we didn’t eat fancy food. We lived on buckskin.”
In addition to his regular duties, Ernie took over the custodian job at the bank and spent nine years working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with just a brief lunch and a break to change clothes.
“Those hours aren’t really a way to raise a family,” he admitted. “You might moderate a little bit.”
NOT REALLY RETIRED
In order to see him, Marjorie worked on the gardens around the bank, which persisted until the construction of the new Cooper Commons building. She also managed to raise three children, teach Sunday school, and help out many her elderly neighbors and relatives.
When Ernie took over the consumer loan department, then-President George McKinley insisted he find a replacement for the custodian position. After driving all around town, he finally settled on an old schoolmate, who stayed in the job until Ernie left the bank in 1990.
Instead of taking a break when he left the bank, Ernie served as treasurer of the Colorado Conservation District for eight years and sat on the Garfield County Investment Committee for 21 years. He and Marjorie also own several rental properties, which keeps them busy.
“We’re not really retired,” Ernie said. “It’s a full-time job.”
In his 13 years as president, Ernie Gerbaz oversaw several expansions and new facilities. He saw banking as a part of the community and tried to keep a personal touch.
“Banking was an opportunity to be able to provide customers financial needs to enrich their lives as well as furthering their lives in business,” he recalled.
Despite his well-earned success, Ernie is the first to admit that a few years at the Colorado School of Banking did more for him than would be possible now.
“The opportunities that I had without a college education are difficult to attain today,” he said. “Our three children were able to afford higher education to expand opportunities in their lives and careers.”
He’s also well aware that even with hard work, you need the help of others to succeed.
“After spending 40 years with the same bank, I owe a debt of gratitude to those I served under for the guidance and knowledge they gave me — including Joseph Gregory who hired me; Erwin Cramp, William Geib and George McKinley, who had trust in me to further my career in banking; and also the dedicated officers and employees,” he said. “The highest debt of gratitude for my banking career and life is my dearest wife, Marjorie.”
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Hard to think some 133 acres just south of the Colorado River in Silt were infested by noxious weeds.