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Glen Suiter's River Bank

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Folks around Princeton, Iowa, can never quite remember whether the new home of Glen Suiter's River Bank and Trust was dedicated in 1895—or whether it was launched.

The confusion begins with Glen Suiter himself, who has never been able to decide whether he is bank president or a Mississippi River steamboat pilot. The river runs deep in Suiter family genes, at least as far back as Glen's great-grandfather, Philip Suiter, who brought his family from Ohio to Illinois by canoe in 1824. Philip became the first licensed raft pilot on the Upper Mississippi, steering logs across the treacherous Rock Island Rapids.

Two generations of Suiters worked the river. Then, as steamboating dwindled, Glen's grandfather turned his boys toward the shore, into industry and banking. Glen's father, Zach, ended up in a bank in Princeton, followed by Glen himself, who soon owned banks in Princeton and LeClaire just downstream.

But the Mississippi is still there, in Glen's blood. Outside the Bank, a brown anchor rests against two rope-wound posts, holding the building safe on shore. The building itself is built with tight seams, safe against any rising river. Inside, in the pilot house, Glen Suiter scans the river through four large pilot house windows. Behind him is the traditional steamboat liars’ bench, where fellow pilots once sat and bragged about their river exploits.

Fortunately for the customers of the Great River Bank and Trust, the same qualities that make a great pilot make a sharp and competent bank president: an ability to steer the boat through treacherous channels, to read the signs that might spell disaster, to find safe water, to keep the boat afloat.

I'm still not sure whether Glen Suiter is a pilot or a bank president, but this I do know. If God ever change his mind, and decide to send a new great flood, some future Noah and his ark will fare much better than the first one. When the rains subside the waters calm, there will come Glen Suiter's Great River Bank floating along. The liars’ bench will be empty—the liars, of course, having all drowned. But you can be sure Glen Suiter will be there in his office, now truly a pilot house, offering rebuilding loans at modest rates.

Rock Island Lines is supported by grants from the Illinois Humanities Council, the Illinois Arts Council—a state agency—and by Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.