Banker known for kindness, community support
Merlyn H. Downing, 85, passed away on Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Hospice of Lenawee, Hospice Home.
Downing was well-known in the community for his generous, giving nature and willingness to help. He started a banking career at United Savings Bank of Tecumseh in 1946, beginning as a bookkeeper, and worked his way up to Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer in 1986. He retired from the bank in 1992, and was appointed Director Emeritus.
“We lost a great friend, didn’t we?” said David Hickman, who is now retired from United Savings Bank, referring to Downing’s impact on the Tecumseh community, and looked up to him as a mentor. “He was one of the finest gentlemen I ever knew and was a great community supporter and advocate. We’re all better off for having been part of his life.”
Hickman said that he learned a lot from Downing, and not just about the banking business.
“I think his devotion to the community is what’s really stuck with me, because when something came up in the community or county, when he thought it was a good thing, he jumped in with both feet,” Hickman said. “I grew up in a family that gave back, and when I came to work with Merlyn, he was also very giving and a very humble man.”
Wendy Knox, Director of Human Resources at Hospice of Lenawee, Hospice Home, was witness to that statement. Downing was a founding director and treasurer of Hospice of Lenawee County. Knox said during Hospice’s early years, there was a process that had to happen to become Medicare certified that involved a shortage of funds to pay staff until the process could be completed.
“Many a week, I would call Merlyn on payday, and tell him we have a plan, but not enough money to pay the staff,” recalled Knox. “He would calm me down, which is hard to do, and he had made arrangements for a line of credit that we could borrow against until our insurance money started coming in. This didn’t just happen once. Had it not been for Merlyn’s faith in us as an organization that we would succeed, we probably wouldn’t have.”
Knox said people at Hospice used to call him “Merlyn the Magician,” because quite often during struggling times, a check would arrive at the perfect moment. “We later found out it was often a donor that Merlyn had spoken to about our need,” Knox said.
Downing also loved to talk about and share his vast collection of banking memorabilia, along with stories of John Thompson, who was president of the bank that ultimately became United Savings Bank, and Downing’s mentor.
“I have some of those items that he gave to me,” said Hickman. “He had things that go back to the Lilley State and Tecumseh State banks in Tecumseh.”
Downing was involved with many Tecumseh organizations, and helped found the Tecumseh Community Foundation, what ultimately became the Lenawee Community Foundation.
“He was instrumental in getting some estate planning done for the Thompson family after John passed away,” said Hickman. Funds from the Ruth V. and Ruth Anne Thompson Trusts helped make the A.J. Smith Recreation Center a reality. “Merlyn was instrumental in that, and the fact that the city would be the direct beneficiary of the funds following their death,” Hickman said.