We lost Ryan's grandfather week before last. He was kind, generous and funny, a business success, a flirt and an animal lover. Most of all, he was a huge part of Ryan's life. We were just talking last night about how many of his personality traits, interests and abilities he inherited from Pop. There's a lot more to say, but for now I wanted to post links to this tribute from an old friend of Charles and this detailed write up from the front page of the Bolivar town newspaper, as well as the link to his obituary and online guestbook. Ryan's parents have been receiving letter after letter these last couple of weeks from people they never knew who Charles helped over the years. I can't wait to look through them myself. He left a legacy and that makes his passing at the age of 94 a little easier, but it's just so hard to say goodbye...I personally can't thank him enough for some very generous things he's done for me over the years and also for helping to raise such a good boy for me to marry...
RIP, Charlie by Dave Berry
Many throughout the region will have stories to tell about Charles Fraser, who died last Tuesday at age 94. There would be even more if he hadn’t outlived so many friends and associates.
Among the stories is the one about how several months ago he was given only a few weeks to live, but until just days before his death he could still be seen mowing his lawn despite near blindness and other maladies that would have idled the common man.
And the one about his many treks back and forth to Parkview Residential Care Center, crossing a busy highway to care for his friend Elizabeth Teters over the last few years of her life.
I developed an instant liking for Charlie the moment I met him in 1977. As a banker and youth baseball coach he reminded me of another banking Charlie who had done his best to coach me in Aurora Little League. As it turned out, they were close friends and golfing buddies over many years.
And I grew even fonder of banker Fraser in 1978 when he loaned us $25,000 to buy what was then the Bolivar Bowl, sporting six lanes in what is now a warehouse for Roweton Home Center, alongside N. Springfield Ave.
The wife and I would go back later to borrow more to buy used pinsetters to replace leased units that AMF was trying to force us to buy at an outrageous price. What AMF was saying was worth a fortune went straight to Yeargain Salvage for scrap after I happily told them to come and get them, because a friendly banker agreed they were trying to take unfair advantage of us.
In both cases, Charlie had absolutely no reason to have confidence I would have the means or wherewithal to repay those loans, other than what he saw in my eyes or felt in my handshake. And, for that matter, neither did I.
To this day I don’t know for certain if Commerce Bank issued those loans to us or if the bank just serviced what Charlie put up out of his own pocket. I would later find out he and other country bankers were prone to do the latter on occasion, something technically prohibited even then but out of the question in today’s regulated banking world.
But truth be known, the loans probably had more to do with the other signature on those documents — my wife’s, whose smile and legs he appreciated. He was a safe flirt all the way to the end.
Either way, the loans were repaid in full and we gained a gold mine’s worth of experience that is paying dividends still today.
There are countless stories like that out there involving people who were helped by Charles Fraser in some fashion. Some probably didn’t end with full repayment of the loans or mutual appreciation for the acts, but there are valuable lessons in that, too.
Of course, I’ll also never forget him because of his donation of the land upon which John Playter Rotary Park was developed.
Or for the column material he occasionally provided, such as when he, as a snowbird in Florida, set out plastic bags for the trash truck to pick up when preparing to head north to Bolivar. The bags turned out to be filled not with trash but with some of his wife’s best clothes.
Or the time his wife, Georgia, received a sympathy card from a friend who, from a kitchen window many yards away, witnessed Charlie heeding the call of nature behind a bush on the Bolivar Municipal Golf Course.
Rest in peace, old friend.
'He loved helping people' Friends remember Bolivar's Charles Fraser by Matthew Barba
Looking at the list of accomplishments which punctuate Charles Fraser’s life, it is easy to tell he touched many people’s lives. Some remember him as their competitor in business, a friend for life, and perhaps most importantly, a good golf buddy.
Charles Ruel Fraser was born June 12, 1919, in Polk, the son of Elgie and Elpha Fraser. While he grew up working in the family’s grocey stores, many people remember Fraser as one of Polk County’s iconic bankers.
In addition to his wife, Georgia Lee, Fraser was often found in the company of Gerald Stephens and his late wife, Helen.
“We were the best of friends,” Stephens said. “His wife and my wife were such close friends, and Charlie and I played many, many rounds of golf together.”
Stephens said when he finally retired the Frasers would invite them down to their place in Florida for some rest and relaxation.
“Charlie and I would go play golf, and the girls would go shopping,” Stephens said with a laugh.
Stephens said that while others might have thought Fraser was a little “unusual” as a banker, his way of helping people in need is what really shone through about him.
“Everyone admired Charlie because he was good at helping people and he was glad to do it,” Stephens said. “I certainly miss the guy.”
Fraser was tapped in the fall of 1961 to run the Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank of Bolivar. He had no previous banking experience but his work ethic and knowledge from operating grocery stores in Bolivar, Stockton, Buffalo, El Dorado Springs and Lebanon gave him an edge that showed in how he conducted business.
“Charles was the most competitive human being that I ever met in my life,” recalled Dave Strader, vice president of Bank of Bolivar. “He was competitive whether he was vying for a bank customer or on the golf course.”
“From a banking standpoint, he was good competition, but he was also a real proponent of Bolivar’s growth and development,” Strader added.
While Strader remembers Fraser’s competitiveness well, a fonder memory is from when the two were neighbors.
He was the greatest neighbor that anybody could ever have,” Strader said. “We were neighbors for many years. He and his dog, Bogie, were constant companions and an absolute joy to be around.”
Shaping young lives
Golf was a passion for Fraser but it was hardly the only sport he helped cultivate in Bolivar and Polk County. Bill Jones remembers when Fraser helped start up Little League baseball in Bolivar.
The Fraser Yankees were one of four teams formed in 1956; other teams included Newport, a dime store; Foremost Dairy; and Houk Dairy.
“Charles Fraser was instrumental in forming a Little League here in Bolivar,” said Bill Jones, a player on the Fraser Yankees in 1956 and 1957. “Virgil Hogan had a vision to form a league, and Charles Fraser and others followed up on that vision while Hogan was here and after he moved from the area.”
When Bill Jones played for the Fraser Yankees, Charles Fraser was the manager; other coaches were Joe Otradovec, Gerald Stephens and Jim Strange.
“Fraser helped us young boys play baseball for several years before forming the league,” Jones said. “He helped take us to Springfield to play against teams there Sunday afternoons. We also played some of our games at Northward school — you could hit the ball over into the Dunnegan’s garden.”
Jim Sterling, former publisher of the BH-FP, remembered Fraser fondly. “He was a great Polk countian.”
Sterling added, “When they opened the Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank, it really helped the business community grow and the entire economy blossomed.
“Charlie was a good banker, a good grocer, a good citizen and a good family man and friend to many,” Sterling said. “And I supposed he’d like to be remembered as a good golfer.”
One person who saw both friend and family man aspects of Fraser was David Cribbs, who described Fraser as “a partner, my banker, competitor on the golf course and one of my best friends.”
“He was like a father to me,” Cribbs said. “My father [Clifford] died early and I came home to run the business. He and dad were very close, and Charlie became just like a father to me.”
One thing that Fraser was responsible for, along with others including Clifford Cribbs, was starting the Bolivar Nursing Home, now owned by Citizens Memorial Hospital, which was the start for local health care services.
Cribbs said that without Fraser, who was humble and selfless, he would not be where he is today.
“I really loved that man because without all of his advice, his character and loaning me money, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Cribbs said. “That man has done a lot behind the scenes and he never wanted to be recognized.”