When Gary Watrous graduated from Groton High School in 1967, he would have never even dreamed that he would one day become the vice president of the First National Bank of Groton, much less find himself celebrating his 45th year of employment there.
Nonetheless, that is indeed the milestone Watrous achieved this past June. He started out in 1974 filling roles such as teller and loan officer and became vice president in 1978 – the role he still fills today.
The road Watrous traveled from his childhood on Spring Street to where he is today was filled with enough twists and turns to fill a novel.
From the 1920s until its closure in 1983, the Smith-Corona typewriter plant was the lifeblood of Groton. That is where Norman “Keith” Watrous worked, as did his father before him. Keith married a local girl, Bernice Rankin, and together, they raised four children, one of whom is Gary.
Gary’s junior year of high school was spent in Toronto, Canada, where his father had been sent to be the manager for Smith-Corona’s plant there. Keith insisted that his family needed to return to Groton in one year for Gary to graduate with the rest of his class.
In the meantime, Kathy Cornwell, who had grown up in Locke, spent her last two years of high school in Groton when her family moved to be closer to her father’s job at Smith-Corona.
One summer night in 1966, Watrous and his best friend, Rick Graves, headed out to attend a dance. Back then, the building on Peru Road that is a laundromat today was a parent volunteer-run youth center, where most of the teens of Groton would gather every Friday and Saturday night for dances with live bands.
It was there that Watrous and Cornwell met and had their first official date at Carol’s Hamburgers in Cortland after the dance. They married in August 1968, raised two daughters, Deborah and Lisa, and now have two grandsons, Jacob and Alex.
That road was not as easy as it sounds either. When Watrous graduated from GHS, he started working at Smith-Corona packing typewriters for retail sale. Cornwell also worked there, assembling typewriter parts. Watrous eventually moved into the assembly line and was paid considerably more than her, as women were not paid at the same rate as men.
When in high school, Watrous was a member of the “Future Teachers of America” club and thought he might want to be a teacher, but when it came to a decision to attend college, he knew that was not the path for him.
The war in Vietnam was in progress then, and Watrous felt compelled to do his part for his country, so he enlisted in the United States Army in April 1968. Watrous wanted to become a helicopter pilot but opted to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) instead.
Following their wedding in August, and after a honeymoon story that is hilarious and too long to tell here and now, the newlyweds headed to Fort Benning, Georgia, where Watrous graduated OCS a 2nd lieutenant. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant before too long, attended jump school to become a paratrooper and then joined the 101st Airborne Division.
Though Watrous was committed to a two-year stint in the army, he was serving in Vietnam for exactly one year and one day before another twist in the road of his life came upon him.
On the peak of a hilltop, very close to a demilitarized zone, Watrous and his company found themselves under siege by the North Vietnamese soldiers. Watrous was carrying out his duty to call in air strikes when he was suddenly in the midst of one of them. He sensed the mortar as it flew over his head and struck somewhere behind him.
For Watrous, the result was enough shrapnel in both of his legs to warrant 800 stitches and three weeks spent in Camp Zama Army Hospital, Japan, falling in and out of consciousness, before he was sent home to Groton in August 1969 – his tour of duty cut short and at an abrupt end.
Due to his limitations at that point, returning to Smith-Corona was simply not an option for Watrous, so he began his quest for work that he could do. That was also not an easy section on the road of life, but he finally found a position as the Groton area salesman for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
While Watrous truly enjoyed the job, he was not enjoying his family time as much as he would like because he needed to work in the evening hours when customers were home from work.
Knowing he needed to do something more drastic to change that, Watrous attended TC3 – fitting his classes into his life as best he could – gaining himself a degree in accounting and business management. It was there at TC3 that Watrous was taught by professor Carl Haynes, who ignited an excitement for the field in him.
Another long-time friend of Watrous’, Steve Gobel, was a bank officer at the First National Bank of Groton, encouraged him to consider working there. Watrous went in for an interview with then-president, Merle Metzgar, and was subsequently hired in June 1974.
Metzgar retired in 1978, at which time Gobel became the bank president (and still is today), and Watrous moved into the vice president’s chair, which brings us back to the beginning of this story – celebrating 45 years of Watrous’ career at the bank.
When asked what he is most proud of, Watrous noted that the bank had $8 million in assets and 13 employees when he started, and today, it has $181 million in assets and 42 employees.
“Every encounter is something different with helping businesses and individuals to solve their financial issues and planning,” he said. “People come in with a need, and it’s gratifying to help them figure it out.”
In conclusion, Watrous said he wouldn’t change anything about his current work/home dynamic.
“I can’t wait to get up and go to work every day, and about halfway through the afternoon, I can’t wait to go home because I also love my home life,” he said. “Everybody should be so fortunate.”
Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, email@example.com or 607-227-4922.
Verne Morton contest winners
The winners of the 11th annual Verne Morton Memorial Photography Show & Contest, in the following categories, were:
Animals: 1st place, Karla Hoag, 2nd place, Richard Mestler, 3rd place, Amber Carmon.
Botanicals: Krista Sessions took 1st place, Lance Hoag, 2nd place, and 3rd place, John MacLean.
People: 1st place, Steve Gallow, 2nd place, Bill O’Sullivan, and 3rd place, Liana Klumpp.
Places: 1st place, Lynn Swearingen, 2nd place, Dewey Dawson, and 3rd place, Lacey Griep. Weather; 1st place, Lance Hoag, 2nd place, Emma Naginey, and 3rd place, Mathew Sparling.
The Morton Legacy Award went to Lance Hoag. Best of Show was awarded to Lynn Swearingen. Swearingen was also the winner of the People’s Choice award, and Bill O’Sullivan took home the Producer’s Choice.
Honorable Mention awards went to Michael Cummings, Karla Hoag, Lacy Hilker and Jo-Ann MacLean.
Congratulations to each of these talented folks! Come back next week for Groton Art Show winners.
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