Remembering Yesteryear Column - 05/08/06


Part IV of a Five-Part Series

George Franklin Rand, third and youngest son of Calvin and Almira, equaled his brothers’ successes. Born at Forest Home on August 14, 1867, he was four years old when his father died in April 1872 at the age of 39. Little is recorded of his early childhood, but most of his time was spent in the LaSalle home with the family of his step-father, Henry W. Kimball. The Kimballs later moved to Brockport, where, on May 29, 1884, when George was 16, his mother died. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps by pursuing teaching, h e attended a country school and New York State Normal School in Brockport.

On September 12, 1888, George was married to Vina Sophia Fisher. They lived at 255 Robinson Street, at the corner of Lincoln Avenue, where the first four of their five children were born: George F., Jr. (December 9, 1891); Evelyn (March 3, 1899); and Gretchen, who would later marry Charles P. Penney (June 2, 1901). In October 1896, the first daughter named Gretchen had died at the age of 7 months.

George’s banking career began when the 16-year old became assistant cashier of the State Bank of North Tonawanda, where his older brother, Benjamin Long Rand, was cashier. His aptitude for finance and administration was obvious when, in 1890, he established a private bank, the Banking House of George F. Rand, with capital of $50,000! This bank had its office on Main Street at the corner of North Canal Street in Tonawanda.

George organized and was president of First National Bank of Tonawanda, resigning after nine years to accept the vice presidency of Columbia National Bank. He became a dominant figure in Buffalo’s banking fraternity. Two figures prominently associated with George at the time were Seymour H. Knox and J. F. Schoellkopf.

After a period as president of Central National Bank, he was elected vice president and then president of Marine National Bank of Buffalo. When he assumed the presidency of Columbia National Bank in Buffalo in 1902, George moved his family to 467 Linwood Avenue in Buffalo. Their second son, Calvin Gordon, was born there on May 29, 1906. This son passed away suddenly on July 1, 1923, while a student at Nichols School in Buffalo.

In 1909 George purchased 50 acres at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada and named it “Randwood.” It became the summer home of the Rands.

In 1913, Columbia National Bank merged into Marine National Bank. Seymour Knox became chairman and George Rand became president. In 1918, to broaden their banking powers, including the power to open branches, the bank’s charter was changed from federal to state and the name was changed to Marine Trust Co. of Buffalo.

Construction began in 1919 on a large home at 1180 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. It is now Canisius High School. Vina Rand died on January 25, 1919, following a long and difficult illness. George himself would die barely 11 months later.

A few months before his own death George was the principal force in the merger of Bankers Trust Company of Buffalo, Erie Finance Corporation, and Marine National Bank into one great institution, the Marine Trust Company, which became one of the strongest financial institutions in the United States. A 7-year-long series of mergers began, merging Marine Trust with the Bankers Trust Company in mid-1919, with George becoming chairman and John H. Lascelles president, and Marine also acquiring Erie Finance Corporation.

This was the crowning achievement of a career before which, according to those who knew him, “stretched vast possibilities, promises that were indeed deemed probabilities by those in position to appreciate best the powerful mental grasp and capacity for executive leadership with which George Franklin Rand was endowed.” He possessed what could best be described as “business statesmanship,” in the sense that he “viewed business from the standpoint of broad economy, an agency affecting large numbers of people.” A financier in the fullest meaning of the term, he was not in business simply to make a fortune for himself, realizing at the same time, as many successful business men do not, “that the most permanent fortune is that one which is grounded upon a reputation for entertaining the interest of all men in all avenues of resource and progress.”

A very successful banker, he not only made a large fortune for himself, but was instrumental in bringing prosperity to a great many other citizens of the Niagara Frontier, being a perfect example of the class of men whose strength of business ability and character is a natural magnet for success, profiting all who came within its compelling force.

It was said by one of his associates that “George never wanted anything that touched his bank or himself to be second best, and this desire he caused to be extended into every department of the work of the institution of which he was the head, taking just pride in the high standards that were observed in all of its transactions. He was a stalwart fighter, but a fair competitor, and had that rare combination of vision and practical ability that, had he lived, would undoubtedly have placed him in the small group of financiers whose names stand preeminently in American banking.”

“The life story of George F. Rand,” said a contemporary biographer, “is one commanding general attention aside from the deeply-appealing and heart-stirring incidents of his closing hours, for even in the common-place relations of life he had worked out a career remarkably interesting, and in its crises had shown a richness of spirit and staunchness of character that gave him firmest hold upon the affectionate esteem and respect of his fellowmen.”

George gave himself freely to many public and charitable enterprises, was a broad-spirited citizen, always ready with a generous response to patriotic and civic calls. Both personally, and through his bank, he entered with patriotic zeal upon the duties imposed by the World War upon every American citizen. The Marine Trust Company purchased for itself and its customers $88,000,000 worth of Liberty bonds and $75,000,000 dollars worth of other government securities. During the Red Cross’s fundraising campaign, George Rand set a standard for the banking world of Buffalo which was never surpassed, and at the outbreak of the war he telegraphed President Wilson an offer to equip an entire regiment at his own expense.

From 1901 until his death in 1919, he was chief executive officer of Columbia National Bank, Central National Bank, Bankers Trust Company of Buffalo, Marine National Bank, the predecessor of Marine Trust Company. By a series of mergers and consolidations, George Rand effected the formation of the Marine Trust Co. of Western New York. This combination of many banks on the Niagara Frontier led to Marine Trust banks in many areas of the state. The North Tonawanda State Bank later became the State Trust office of Marine Trust Bank, which developed into Marine Midland Bank and was later in the latter 20 th century taken over by HSBC Bank. His son, George Rand, Jr., continued in his father’s footsteps and became president of Marine Trust.

Superlative as was his genius for finance, his wealth of human affection, deep feeling and devotion to home and family were equally great. He was earnestly religious and took active part in the devotional life of the church. He was intensely loyal to his friends, whom he attracted most by admiration for his powers of leadership and in response to his genial nature and warm generosity.

In 1919, George also took a leadership role in establishing the Buffalo Foundation (now known as the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo). While George actually started the foundation, he died before it could become active. The first gift to the foundation was the Rand Memorial Fund of $150,000 donated December 31, 1919, in memory of George and Vina by their sons and daughters. Rand family members have continued to support this foundation and its philanthropic efforts.

No more significant tribute could be paid to George Rand’s memory than one coming from his most intimate business associates as evidenced by a tablet, on the wall in the lobby of the beautiful new Rand building, reading as follows:

“The directors of the Marine Trust Company of Buffalo, dedicate this building as a memorial to the late George F. Rand in appreciation of his worth as a citizen and the outstanding services rendered by him to the Marine Trust Company of Buffalo and its predecessors, the Marine National Bank, Bankers Trust Company of Buffalo, Central National Bank and Columbia National Bank as chief executive during the period from 1901 until his death in 1919.”

In 1919 George Rand made a journey to Europe, and in the course of his stay abroad visited the battlefield of Verdun. On June 11, 1916, a section of the 137 th Regiment of the French Infantry, composed of Bretons and Vendeens, having received orders to attack, were standing in their trenches with bayonets fixed, awaiting the signal. A sudden and terrific bombardment by German guns of the heaviest caliber opened up, and the trenches where these men stood were caved in and filled up until level with the surrounding ground. When the bombardment ended and relief arrived, the trenches were no longer visible, but emerging from the earth at irregular intervals were the bayonets of the rifles which these brave men held. Under each there stood a dead soldier.

Three years went by; the armistice had come; the Peace Conference was in session at Paris. During all this time these bayonets pierced the snows of winter and rusted in the summer rains. The bodies of the gallant men beneath were mixing with the earth of that France for whom they had given their lives. To the occasional visitors who at this time came to the battlefield of Verdun, this sight was pointed out as one of the strange and tragic incidents of the terrific battle which had so long been waged on these hills.

Visiting this scene in 1919, George Rand was profoundly impressed by the significance of the story it silently told. During a visit to American ambassador to France Wallace, they discussed the trench and its story, agreeing that it should be protected from ravages of time and left intact for future generations as a perpetual symbol of the heroism of the French defenses of Verdun.

George at once offered to place half a million francs at the disposal of the ambassador for this purpose, and Wallace, without a moment’s hesitation, went with George to see the French Prime Minister, M. Georges Clemenceau, who, with equal promptness and in the name of the French government, accepted the offer.

The next morning George Rand started for London in an airplane which met with an accident en route, and he was instantly killed.

A memorial service was held for George Franklin Rand on March 28, 1920, in Central Church of Christ in North Tonawanda, a church he had helped organize in March 1901. For years, he had been a member of the First Church of Christ in Tonawanda, later helping to organize and build the Payne Avenue Church of Christ in North Tonawanda. In February 1899, he organized a mission Sunday School at the corner of Oliver and Wheatfield Streets. He was active there as a regular Sunday School teacher.

“Remembering Yesteryear” is produced under the auspices of the North Tonawanda History Museum. We invite individuals with stories or news of local history to tell to write or call 213-0554.

Photo: George F. Rand

Credit: To appear in the Tonawanda News - Monday, May 8, 2006

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