High Plains Banker Finally Returns Home
International banking took him around the world. But, eventually, after so many years working for Citibank, it was the High Plains, his hometown, and his childhood home that drew him back to Syracuse.
|The Royers at home in Syracuse (Photo by Michelle Boy)
Bill Royer, now retired, returned in 2007 to the house of his youth—but only to fix it up for sale, not to live in. Seated in a warmly decorated living room surrounded by his loving wife, Martha, three dogs, and one cat, he shared why he went away and why he came home, and why he's going to stay in this small town of 1,600 in Hamilton County.
And maybe that story is wrapped up in and around the house he grew up in. The ceiling light fixture in the living room has a crystal clear marble that no one has stolen. The clock in the kitchen is the same one that Bill glanced at it as he rushed out to school as a child. The refinished floors are imperfect by choice, with scratches from long ago still embedded in the wood. “I probably made them,” says Bill. And the 300-year-old mulberry tree remains outside the kitchen window. The only change is a slow one: the rope swing of Bill’s carefree childhood days is now a permanent part of the tree.
Back in a time when you could count the number of divorced women on one hand, Bill’s father left in 1946, when he and his twin sister, Patricia, were two years old. His mother, Fern, was a hearty pioneer woman, unafraid of work and willing to take care of what needed to be done. She raised her children and took care of her aging mother; all while working at an insurance office and supplementing her income by boarding a schoolteacher in the basement.
“My mother taught us the sanctity of family. No bickering was allowed. You protected each other,” Bill fondly remembers.
“I remember waking up on a Saturday morning and coming out of my bedroom. And I was never quite sure who would be in the kitchen with my mom,” smiles Bill. Fern always had time for people. Folks stopped by to have coffee or just visit.
Bill’s memories of dragging down Main Street when gas was 30 cents a gallon, hiking to the river and camping, as well as the adventures as a Boy Scout. They all contributed to his abiding love of Syracuse. And in a small town, your work ethic preceded you. “I had my first job at the Frazee law firm where I emptied waste baskets for 10 cents a day.”
Bill graduated in 1964 from Syracuse High School, and graduated from Stanford University in 1968. He joined the Marine Corps for five years and did a tour of duty in Vietnam. Bill left the service as a Lieutenant Colonel, and began studying at the Harvard Business School. After graduation in 1975, he worked for Citibank where he became the Senior Credit Officer in the corporate division of the company. He oversaw 90 employees, none of whom could complete a deal without him.
During the 32 years of service for Citibank, Bill traveled the world. Most of his work took him to New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco. But, for Bill, success didn't come from his military training or his higher education. No, small town life gave him everything he needed to be successful.
“Some kids from small towns have an inferiority complex. They wonder, ‘how do I compete?’ But they are very wrong. I supervised 90 people because of my people skills. In a large city, if you don’t like someone, you can avoid them. Not so in a small town. It is character building to have to deal with them.”
Bill credits his education at Syracuse High School. The school was awarded the bronze ranking from US News and World Report—two years in a row—for being among the 2,000 best in the country. Today, the computers available to the students are top of the line. The art class has the latest technology with Macs and good quality digital cameras.
Yet, even though Bill praises Syracuse, he never had plans to move here. “I remember visiting my mother over the years. She would rock back and forth in her chair asking me when I was going to come back to live here."
After his mother and sister passed away, Bill spent more time in Syracuse restoring the house he grew up in. His plan was to sell the house and return to California. But Syracuse grew on him. Bill and Martha’s home sits on the same block as the town's Post Office. “I love the Post Office. It is like a little European town. People get their mail, see friends, and visit with neighbors. We put a bench out front, so people could stop and rest,” said Bill.
But that is not the only thing about his town that he enjoys. “I like sitting on my front porch on a balmy summer evening while others drive by waving at you. I enjoy strolling to the old movie theatre to take in a show. But I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Motts (Martha). If she didn’t like it, I would have stayed in California.”
For Martha, the pace of Syracuse suits her. “I love it here. I like the High Plains. While I enjoy the mountains, I love to be able to see out. The sunrises and sunsets are continually changing. And I enjoy all the young families moving in, who want to raise their children here.”
As renovations are finishing on their home, the Royers plan to travel around the state. “We are going to see Kansas," Bill says. "I want to revisit it and Motts has never seen it.”
Life in Southwest Kansas is infectious. Just recently, Martha's son—Robert—moved to Syracuse. Her other son, Rick, lives in California. And now her sister is considering moving here as well. The High Plains, always welcoming families.