PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Ravenna banker worked 50 years in same room

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published:

William H. Beebe was 18 years old when he took a position in the banking house of Robinson, King and Company in Ravenna in 1860.

He remained on the job -- in the same room -- for more than 50 years.

When he retired in 1911 as cashier of the Second National Bank of Ravenna, the onetime boy banker was one of the most respected men in the community where he was born, and the bank he served with such devotion was one of its financial pillars.

"To the executive ability and intimate experience of Mr. Beebe the institution is largely indebted for its growth and present prominence in financial circles of the county," the Ravenna Republican observed when Beebe retired. "No citizen in the county has more distinctive prestige than this well known financier."

William Beebe was rooted in Ravenna. Born Oct. 1, 1841, he was the son of Horace Y. Beebe, who was a prominent businessman -- and a banker with Robinson, King and Company -- as well as active in Republican Party politics. Horace Beebe played a key role in securing Abraham Lincoln's nomination for the presidency, which Lincoln acknowledged during his stop in Ravenna as president-elect in February 1861. William Beebe's mother, Augusta Coolman, was a sister of D.C. Coolman, another prominent Ravenna business leader; their father served as Portage County sheriff and editor of the Western Courier, the county's first newspaper.

Beebe was educated in Ravenna, then attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, the forerunner of Hiram College, where he was a student of James A. Garfield. He was planning to attend college elsewhere when he went to work at Robinson, King and Company, a private banking house, where his father served as cashier. He was named to succeed his father in 1863, when he was 22 years old.

When Second National Bank was organized as a state institution in 1864, William Beebe was named as cashier ­ -- a position he held until he retired on Oct. 1, 1911. With the exception of a brief period late in his career when the bank was being remodeled, he worked in the same room where he had begun his job as a teenager.

As cashier, Beebe oversaw the daily operation of the bank and witnessed its growth into one of the most prominent financial institutions in Portage County. He earned a reputation as an unpretentious businessman who enjoyed a wide circle of acquaintances, "but first and foremost he did the work of the hour faithfully and systematically," according to the Ravenna Republican. He was a master of finance.

As his career progressed, his service spanned three generations of bank directors; he had worked with the grandfathers and fathers of some of the members of later boards. He took pride in mentoring numerous young men who went on to careers in banking. It was said that he missed fewer than 30 days of work because of illness.

Like his father, he became a community leader and was especially active in fraternal circles, including the Masonic order and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. His father founded the Odd Fellows lodge in Ravenna in 1846 and later served as state officer of the IOOF; William Beebe also served as a state officer. (The Odd Fellows lodge, which remains in existence, is the oldest fraternal organization in Portage County.)

He purchased Clinton Terrace, a mansion overlooking Clinton Avenue, from his uncle, D.C. Coolman, in 1902. He and his wife, Ella, entertained friends and visitors there. He also owned a number of farms in the Ravenna area, with holdings totaling 135 acres.

His retirement proved to be relatively short. Less than three years after leaving Second National Bank, he died at Clinton Terrace on June 24, 1914. He was 72 years old.

"Ravenna has lost a citizen of large worth," the Republican observed. "A staunch friend, a wise counselor and a safe and conservative businessman, he has left an enduring monument of industry and good citizenship and will be missed by hundreds of people here and throughout the county."

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