They were independent to the last
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:44 PM
"Bainbridge Island prides itself on being distinctive and independent - not a part of anything or anyplace else. Louis Goller and Pauline Deschamps, two business people honored posthumously by the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce at its annual awards luncheon last week, succeeded by adopting that attitude for their businesses.Deschamps, who died Feb. 5 of this year, and Goller, who died Feb. 17, bucked the trend toward consolidation and homogenization, and thrived by going their own way, friends, family members and associates said.American Marine Bank, the island institution Goller founded in 1948, is practically a museum-quality oddity these days - an independent small-town bank still based in its small town. Deschamps Realty and Associates, Inc. has resisted the allure of outside affiliations, and is the largest of the island's few remaining independent real estate brokers.Goller, friends and family say, got into the banking business by accident.He came to Tacoma from Montana to teach school, because a relative told him teaching jobs were plentiful, son Jeff Goller recalled. But he couldn't get a teaching job, so he decided to give up and go home.On the way to the train station, he passed a bank that had a 'Help Wanted' sign on the window, and he walked in and got the job. What Tacoma's Central Bank wanted in 1946 was a custodian, so Goller started by sweeping floors. But he learned rapidly, and quickly became first a federal then a state bank examiner.Then opportunity presented itself in the form of Winslow's eager business community willing to embrace an eager young banker.We talked to many of the businesspeople in the community, Goller's widow Gloria Goller recalls. They wanted a bank. But none of them had the experience to get a charter. Lou was right out of bank examining, so the authorities were happy to give him a charter.Goller's Bainbridge Island Bank opened in 1948 in a small cinder-block building on Winslow Way, some distance away from the cluster of businesses at the ferry landing.I told him not to worry about the bank, that the businesses would come and fill in around him, Gloria Goller said. And of course that's what happened.The bank prospered from the beginning, and soon expanded beyond the island, opening branches in Poulsbo, Kingston, Bremerton and Port Orchard. With that expansion, the name had to be changed as well.We talked about that, Gloria Goller said. I said the name should say something about water. He wanted a name that would be near the beginning of the telephone directory. So we settled on American Marine Bank.Retired AMB vice president Jackie Sherer said much of the bank's success stemmed from Goller's willingness to embrace new technology, such as cash machines and widespread computer use. She said that in retrospect, a key decision in securing the bank's independence was the establishment of its own data-processing department.Sherer said Goller was also ahead of the times in terms of equal employment opportunity.Banking was a man's world in the '60s, she said. Mr. Goller was willing to give women the promotions they deserved. He was a taskmaster, and you had to deserve them, but if you did, he would recognize you.Goller also stressed community service. He taught us to grow up, to serve the community, to be part of Bainbridge Island, Sherer said.But according to Sherer, service to the community was only Goller's way of repaying a debt that was due.There was kind of a barn-raising spirit, she said. This community built the bank.Pauline Deschamps' background was with department stores - Rhodes Department Store and the May Company, a predecessor to Nordstrom.When she and her husband Bob came to the island in the 1950s, she made the jump into real estate, starting with the local branch of a large agency.But being a part of a large machine didn't appeal to her. So in the late 1950s, she opened her own office in Winslow. A decade later, she moved her office to property she owned on the northeast corner of High School Road and Highway 305, and the firm has been there ever since.She ran a pretty tight ship, recalls Georg Syvertsen, who has managed the Deschamps office for more than 20 years. She was forthright with regards to business ethics.For example, Syvertsen said, agents in that office are prohibited from buying any property they list for the first 30 days it's on the market.We want to serve our customers, not compete with them, Syvertson said.And Deschamps wanted to remain independent.We were offered affiliations over the years - the Coldwell Banker franchise, the Prudential franchise and the Re/Max franchise, Syvertsen said. But she thought people want a hometown firm. She said there would always be room on the island for one good independent.Deschamps' emphasis on old-fashioned service was sometimes just plain old-fashioned, Syvertsen said.We didn't have email until two years ago, he said. She didn't believe that machines could replace the personal touch."