GAYS MILLS - Things changed at the Royal Bank of Gays Mills Tuesday morning. After more 26 years, bank president Rick Busch was not there and it was branch manager Nicole Fortney was sitting in the office to the left when you walk into the bank.
Rick Busch has retired as bank president and will work on some special projects from his home office, while continuing to serve on Royal Bank Board of Directors.
A week or two ago, Rick took down all the decorations, paintings and memorabilia that had accumulated in the more than two decades he had spent in that office.
“There were a few dust bunnies and lots of memories,” Rick said in describing moving out of the office.
There in the midst of it all he ran across the newspaper story about the North Crawford High School football team breaking their 40-game losing streak. The clipping had a special place in his heart because his son Allan played on that team. It was a long time ago. Allan Busch is 39 years old and he graduated from North Crawford in 1997.
Time has flown by for Rick Busch, like it has for so many baby boomers.
His daughter Abbey Read is the 35-year-old mother of two Verona High School basketball players and his youngest daughter Meggie Busch is 32. They were all just little kids when the family moved to town in June of 1991. Now, Rick and his wife Angel have seven grandkids.
Meggie was in the first class to start kindergarten at the new North Crawford School, which opened in the fall of 1991 and then graduate from the same school in the spring of 2005.
All that time in Gays Mills, but Rick Busch grew up on a farm just outside of Dickeyville. His parents milked cows, and raised beef and hogs.
As a child, he attended the Holy Ghost Catholic Grade School in Dickeyville. Then, he attended Wahlert High School in Dubuque. The large Catholic High School had a graduating class of about 450 in the mid-70s, when Rick graduated.
Rick attended UW-Platteville for one semester, but really didn’t like the experience. He decided that he’d work for a while and then go back to school.
“I think my problem with college might have been that I didn’t go away,” Rick said. “There were just too many distractions.”
Rick Busch started work at the First National Bank of Dubuque on the Monday after Christmas in 1977. He was a vault teller and his major job was counting money.
Rick started dating Angel in June of 1978, and they were married in the fall.
It turned out that application at the bank in Dubuque would be the only job application Rick Busch ever made.
A call from a banker he knew in Platteville got him over to that bank, where he worked as a teller and a loan assistant from 1978 to 1983. Then, another call from Potosi State Bank landed him back in his hometown of Dickeyville, as a branch manager of the Potosi Bank. Rick stayed in Dickeyville for eight years until he got a call from Ron Darga.
Darga knew Busch from his previous banking jobs. He had watched Busch work hard writing ag loans through the farm crisis of the 80s. So, he hired Rick Busch to operate the bank in Gays Mills.
Rick took the job in April and started in June, but couldn't tell anyone.
So he and Angel made the trip to the village and walked around a bit. Oh, they’d been to the Gays Mills Orchards before, but never down in the village.
Rick remembered one of the first people he met was longtime resident Pat Boland, who was also out for walk. Pat told Rick and Angel where the school was and was real friendly. The couple met some more friendly people and decided they kind of liked the place. Not to mention the natural beauty of the are that struck them then and still does to this day.
When they brought the kids up and they saw the pool, that was it.
“I’ve spent the 26 and-a-half years here,” Rick said. “I grew up here. Time has just went by so fast. It was a great thing for my family.
“At home I was always my parents’ son,” Rick explained. “We were always our parents’ children. Here, we were Rick and Angel Busch.”
Shortly, after Busch arrived at the Gays Mills bank, it was acquired by Royal Bank. Royal had banks in Elroy and Lone Rock at that time. It also had about $41 million in equity; now it has close to $400 million in equity and 19 offices.
Although Royal Bank has grown dramatically in the past 20 years, they still operate in a personal and familiar way with their small town customers.
“Our employees have helped us maintain that feeling,” Rick said. “All that growth just means there’s another zero at the end of the number.”
In Gays Mills, those employees include Nicole Fortney and Jessica Deckert among many others. Both women got their start in the banking business when they were hired by Rick Busch.
For Deckert, then Allison Childs, it meant being hired as a part-time teller, while still a student at North Crawford High School through the school-to-work program.
Allison attended Southwest Tech out of high school and studied finance. She returned to work at the bank following her graduation and currently works as a loan officer.
“He’s been my mentor for all of these years,” Allison said of Rick Busch on the eve of his retirement as bank president. “I owe him my career I guess. He started me young and believed I would succeed.”
Nicole Fortney has been with the bank for 18 years and will run the operation in Gays Mills as the branch manager.
Nicole acknowledged it was Rick Busch who taught her the most about the banking industry.
“I was taught very well by him,” Nicole said. “Kudos to him.”
Fortney said Rick’s role within Royal Bank will change. While he will remain on the bank’s board, he will not be involved in the daily chores, as he has been for past 26 years.
With her background in banking, Nicole is confident of her abilities to assume more responsibility going forward.
“I have good support within the organization,” Nicole said. “Besides, I can always pick up the phone and call Rick if I need some advice.”
Yes, Rick will continue to work on bank matters from an office at his home in Gays Mills.
However, there remain many memories etched into his brain from all of those years and probably none are bigger than the floods he’s experienced during his time living in Gays Mills.
Rick still remembers the first flood he experienced in 1992. He thought it was “crazy” as he watched the water get up to Todd’s gas station on the corner of Gay and Main Street. Little did he know then, what the community was yet to face.
“This community can be commended for being a very strong community,” Busch said recalling the efforts put forth during the various floods.
Then, there was flood of August 2007. Rick got up on the morning of the flood and drove down to the bank from his home a half-mile away.
“I was totally in a state of disbelief,” Rick said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Along with Scott Mickelson, he jumped into his boat that was stored across the road from the bank. The pair headed down Orin Street just a couple blocks from the bank and tied onto the porch of one of the flooded homes. Then, they proceeded to load a stranded family with young kids into the boat.
“The family was in shock,” Rick recalled. “We put lifejackets on everybody and told the little kids we were going to have some fun going for a little boat ride.”
That morning was just the beginning of the massive recovery from that flood and another big flood 10 months later in 2008.
Through it all, Royal Bank stood by the community and its beleaguered citizens with emergency financial aid. The bank backed the village government with no-interest and low-interest loans during the recovery effort. Rick was proud of the bank and proud of the community.
Rick Busch has also served the local community for many years as a member of the Gays Mills Volunteer Fire Department and as member of the Gays Mills Lions Club.
So, what else is in store for Rick Busch?
“Well, I’m going to be here,” Rick said. “I’m going to visit with my family, I’m going fishing and I’m going do some projects around the house. I’m going to do all the things I wished I could do, but I had to go to work instead.”