COLE, James.--The position of a reputable bank President warrants the conclusion that the incumbent is a man of character, purpose and integrity. Isolated cases which discredit his calling, and plunge the country into paroxysms of alarm, fail to disprove the assumption that every man who has in him the making of a successful banker possesses these strong and fundamental requisites. Banking is not a business to attract the frivolous or impatient. The centuries have added no frills to its methods, or softened, by a single shade, its somber and accuracy-compelling requirements. In some instances, mahogany counters and costly furnishings may relieve the eye, but they do not lift the austere obligation from the shoulders of those who hold in trust and manipulate the deposits of their fellowmen. Nine cases out of ten, the bank President has been under observation in the community for many years, and through right living has gained unquestioned confidence–his most essential asset. No exception to this generality is found in James Cole, former President of the First National Bank of Bushnell; a man to whom an introduction were superfluous, who has lived in the town for halt a century, has been a banker for twenty-three years, and who, in his rise from humble conditions, furnishes an inspiring example of the compelling power of high ideals, and the worth of homely, sterling virtues. The pressure of necessity, that greatest developing force of youth, fell heavily upon the childhood of James Cole. For a short time only he knew the redeeming grace of a mother's love, nor did a father's help and counsel accompany him to the threshold of his independent career.
Born in Berkeley County, Va., August 20, 1824, Mr. Cole is one of the six children of William Cole, a blacksmith by trade and a native also of Virginia. So meager were the family resources that, after the death of his mother, the boy James was taken in hand by the Overseer of the Poor, and bound out for a term of years to one Philip Stone, with whom he remained until his fifteenth year. During this time his educational opportunities were represented by three months' attendance at a school in Middletown, Va. However, to the far-seeing and ambitious all things reasonable are possible, and the lad, who had wearied of his narrow, restraining environment, ran away to labor henceforth according to the dictates of his expanding nature. To the ambitious poor come always the most interesting experiences, and to the friendless and alone the rivers and ocean have ever sent out an alluring call. As a deck-hand on a steamer plying all the navigable rivers of the Middle West, the boy of fifteen winters felt something of the freedom and joy of summer while performing his menial tasks, and after a time he was advanced to a position of cook, and later still to that of barkeeper. At the age of twenty-one he found that the river had nothing further to teach him, and, as his most practical accomplishment at that time was cooking, he settled in St. Louis and engaged in operating a restaurant. Later he followed the same calling in Chicago for a couple of years, and still later had a restaurant in Quincy, Ill., for nine years.
Mr. Cole was thirty-one when he arrived in Bushnell in 1855. As in all parts of the Central West at that time there was a crying need of men who could mold circumstances rather than be molded by them; who could go out to meet and turn to good account the opportunities unfolded by the zeal and suffering of early settlers, his energies gravitated toward merchandising as the most feasible of occupations and for thirty-one years his success was increasingly manifest in that direction. At the same time he engaged in a grain business, thus encouraging the raising of this product in the surrounding country. Economy and the capacity for saving projected him into the ranks of capitalists, and in 1882 he established the bank of James Cole & Company, which, ten years later, became the First National Bank of Bushnell, the only national bank in the town. Of this bank Mr. Cole was elected President; Augustus Kaiser, First Vice-President; Mack M. Pinckly, Second Vice-President; J. M. Gale, Cashier; and Charles E. Henry, Assistant Cashier. The concern has advanced to one of the strong and reliable monetary institutions of the State, and is recognized as an extremely conservative force in banking circles. Its report of May 29, 1905, showed a capital stock of $50,000; surplus and undivided profits, $13,990.52, circulation, $50,000; and deposits, $321,593.99. On January 1, 1906, Mr. Cole resigned the presidency, thus severing his connection with the First National Bank, and with his son, George W. Cole, organized the Cole's Savings Bank, of which he is now the President. This new institution is receiving the support of the community and of Mr. Cole's many staid and old financial friends, and is doing a very prosperous business. To his pronounced business qualifications Mr. Cole joins a predilection for public affairs, more especially those things which directly affect the good order of the community, and its advancement in education and citizenship. Through refusal to identify himself with any particular political party, he has been free to exercise judgment of a particularly liberal and far-sighted nature. Formerly a Whig, his later sympathies have been with the Republican party, and he was warmly supported Theodore Roosevelt in the past, and will in the future, should opportunity permit. He has held practically all of the offices within the gift of the people of Bushnell, including that of Chief Executive for three terms, and School Trustee and President for seven years. He early conceived a faith in the appreciation of Bushnell realty, and from time to time has made investments which attested his levelheaded business judgement. Several substantial buildings have been erected by him, which have materially added to the appearance and resources or the city. He is not unmindful of the value of social diversions, or of the moral uplift derived from thirty years' association with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and more than twenty years with the Knights of Pythias. Since early manhood he has found a religious home in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and in addition to other church offices has held that of Trustee for many years.
It would be a difficult undertaking to enumerate the local undertakings which have directly or indirectly owed their success to the support of Mr. Cole. He is a generous donator to worthy causes, and his generosity is tempered and guided by that unavoidable discretion which becomes a part of the man who has swung his bark to profitable moorings through an infinity of shoals, and after many grinding hardships. If the span of life is measured by ideas, by new sensations, by the ceaseless development of latent capacities, the life of this man is longer than that of the patriarchs who drew out centuries amid the monotony of the deserts in the dull round of pastoral pursuits. Measured by years, his moderation, maintenance of reserve force, constant exercise of faculties and serenity of mind, have brought him into the company of the borrowers of time, to four-score years and two; a man of bright eye, alert step, and sound and quiet judgment; a careful student of the facts and philosophies of human interest not taught in the schools, but wrought in persistent and thoughtful self-education. The straight-forward simplicity of the deck-hand is not lost on the captain of industry, and it is safe to say that no man whose name stands for the best in financiering in McDonough County has, to a greater extent, the qualities of unostentation, approachableness, sympathy and courtesy which are the hall marks of true dignity and worth.
On the first of January, 1906, Mr. Cole tenered his resignation of his position in connection with the First National Bank of Bushnell, thus severing his connection with that institution, and in conjunction with his son George W. Cole, organized Coles Savings Bank, which he is now the President. The new institution is receiving the support of the community and Mr. Cole's friends and is developing a very prosperous business.
Source: The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of McDonough County, compiled by Dr. Newton Bateman, and Paul Shelby, 1907.