The day after the storm cleared, community stewards, such as Naples Promenade Disaster and Recovery Group, sprang into action alongside organizers, coordinators, volunteers, and social media whizzes. Since then, many groups who were looking after the physical needs of various neighborhoods sprang forth along with individuals who were looking after emotional needs to feel connected. Everyone was playing a role in our home’s recovery.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Perusing Facebook one night, I came across a post by Nancy Turner, who is married to a pioneering descendent named, Nick Turner. She mentioned her concerns about “Tooke’s Palm” at the end of North Lake Drive.
The next day, another post from Jen Adriaanse, popped up about a metal plaque and asked if anyone knew of this family. It was none other than Florida’s First Lady of Banking, Mamie B. Tooke, who used to go down to the beach to swim after work and my guess is, it was where “Tooke’s Palm” is today.
WHAT’S MY TAKE ON TOOKE?
Mrs. Tooke, regarded by many as the mother of Naples, is still revered as one of Southwest Florida’s most formidable women in banking. Known for her courage and managerial skills, she could have written a book on leadership, trust and other proficiencies she either learned or honed from her beloved husband, Clarence. Another teacher in business and life for Mamie was Jedge Tibbetts, her faithful “loan officer,” who was willing to simply work for cookies and a scratch on the back.
BANKING IN NAPLES
Prior to 1949, bank transactions for the Naples area were conducted in Fort Myers. Bubba Frank, founder of the Swamp Buggy, opened the first commercial building on Fifth Avenue South and made this banking trek daily for himself and for a few others, thus dubbing himself “The Collier County Courier.” Other residents, however, grew tired of traveling for their banking needs and decided to pool their money and open a bank. W. Roy Smith, Ed Frank and Ansel MacSwain were among those who founded the Bank of Naples in 1949.
Mr. Smith, Naples’ first modern-time mayor, who served from 1946-1960, became president of the bank and hired Mr. Tooke as the bank’s first manager. Mrs. Tooke was offered the job as head cashier. Sadly, one year after opening the bank, Mr. Tooke suffered a major stroke and passed away a short time later. Mrs. Tooke then became bank manager and proceeded to develop a strong and loyal clientele.
MAMIE’S RULES AND REGS
Mrs. Tooke was a natural at customer service. The concept of an open door policy might not have begun with Mrs. Tooke, but she embodied the philosophy.
Since the building was not air-conditioned, the doors of the Bank of Naples stood open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and the first face everyone saw upon entering was hers. This policy not only encouraged the general public to visit, it also offered her loan officer the ability to sniff out any necessary details in order to do his job effectively.
JEDGE, THE LOAN OFFICER
One of the bank’s early customers, Joan Tibbetts, often did her banking and other errands accompanied by Jedge, her basset hound. Jedge would wait patiently for his cookie, and one day decided not to follow Mrs. Tibbetts home. Instead, he would assume his position next to Mrs. Tooke, wherein for hours he would go about his new job of sleuthing or sleeping.
When Mrs. Tooke assumed the manager’s position, she also inherited a seat on the Loan Committee. As the stories go, she soon noticed that during some of the loan interviews, Jedge would get up and leave the bank, while during others he would remain next to her desk. Jedge became her barometer.
FAILURE WAS IMPOSSIBLE
Gene MacSwain, son of one of the founders of Naples’ first bank, remembers Mrs. Tooke, Mrs. Tibbetts and Jedge very well. Over coffee a few years ago, he matter-of-factly relayed, “You know, that dog could decide if you got a loan or not. It made some people mad. “He then smiled that sly Cracker smile, leaned in and whispered, “She knew who’d pay back that loan—we all did. Now she had a scapegoat. Actually, I guess it was a scape-dog.”
(Thanks Nancy and Jen for memories of home.)