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A life of honesty and integrity

“One would not suppose that the demands upon a banker in peaceful Jacksonville would be of the nature of wear and grind,” wrote a Portland reporter. “However, you still are apt to find Mr. Beekman too busy to talk.”

For nearly 60 years, before he died in February 1915, valley residents trusted Cornelius Beekman to handle and protect their gold and valuables. He was as a man of his word who rarely spoke and wasn’t prone to bragging or spending time in idle chat — not that Beekman ever had much idle time.

Other bankers snickered at Beekman, saying that Cornelius wasn’t a “shrewd banker,” as if that was something bad. Maybe he wasn’t shrewd, but Cornelius Beekman had something those bankers didn’t have — integrity.

For more than 60 years, millions upon millions of dollars in gold and other valuables passed over Beekman’s counter. He didn’t pay interest on deposits and charged one percent each month to store a depositor’s money. He never lost a cent, never cheated anyone, and scrupulously kept an accounting of every penny.

One story says that a miner came to the bank to deposit a bag of gold dust worth about $15,000. The man asked Beekman to store it safely for a short time. Expecting the miner to return after he had a few drinks at the saloon, Beekman put the bag in a corner of his vault.

Fifteen years later, the miner returned and said, “You don’t know me, but I left a bag of gold here 15 years ago.” It took a moment, but Beekman remembered the miner and retrieved the man’s bag of gold from the corner of the vault.

The bank didn’t make loans from its deposits; although Beekman would never turn away someone in need if he could trust them. From his sizable fortune, accrued over many years, Beekman personally loaned out a lot of money.

He never had to prove his honesty to anyone until Oregon passed its first banking law in 1907 and began inspections of bank records, deposits and loans.

One of Oregon’s first bank examiners, Claude Getch, a former mayor of Salem, visited Beekman’s bank in November of that year.

“I found it ... as sound as a financial institution could be,” Getch said. “His cash ratio was amply covered by his deposits, but his cash on hand for a banking house was slightly low. I told him it was a minor detail and advised him to increase his cash ratio to the legal point.

“He led me around to the old stone vault,” Getch said, “took out a huge key, unlocked a vast padlock, opened the door, and simply said, ‘There it is — take a look.’”

“And — there it was — bags and bags of gold coins, gold dust and gold nuggets.”

Beekman’s bank passed its audit.

Two years before his death, a reporter asked Beekman what advice he would give to young people.

“Live temperately and quietly, dealing honestly with all men,” he said. “Avoid carousing and fast living. Save your money. Don’t gamble or speculate. Keep your spoon out of the other fellow’s mush and attend to your own business.”

For most of Cornelius Beekman’s 86 years and 26 days, he lived those words. His was indeed a life of honesty and integrity.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.