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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

John Riley

John Riley Reflects
On a Long Career

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — February 3, 2006 – The first thing you hear is the voice.
Firm but kind.
Direct with an undertone of laughter and a nasal quality that harkens back to a North Philly upbringing.
John Riley’s is the voice of Jeff Bank.
The news that he’s retired from his post as executive vice president of the county’s largest local bank doesn’t change that.
Twenty-two years after he made the jump from United National Bank to a senior lending position with the First National Bank of Jeffersonville, Riley is still an “everybody banker.”
“I always thought it was a great place to work, and I’ve worked in some not-so-great places to work,” he said. “It’s just the atmosphere, the way they treat the employees.
“You had the authority, you could use the authority with the customers to get things done,” Riley explained. “You didn’t have to jump through hoops to help the customer.”
A month after the 62-year-old Riley retired his post with the bank, he dropped in for a visit at the branch he helped open more than 20 years ago on Darbee Lane in Liberty.
The voice that launched one of the bank’s most popular advertising campaigns more than a decade ago was all his old co-workers needed to hear.
They gathered ‘round for a visit then offered him an office and all the time he needed.
That’s the atmosphere that kept Riley working at the Jeff Bank.
Born and bred in Philadelphia, Pa., Riley put in four years serving his country as a loadmaster in the Air Force during the Vietnam War then returned home to marry high school sweetheart Mary Helen in 1966.
His career started at a finance company in Langhorne, Pa.
From there the Rileys moved to New Jersey, and John met a man who worked for Marine Midland Bank.
He was hired by Marine Midland and sent to run their regional operations out of Liberty.
From there he went to United National Bank for a short time, then on to the Jeff Bank.
Within a year, Riley was sent from the main headquarters in Jeffersonville back out to his new hometown to open the bank’s first branch in eastern Sullivan County.
The Liberty office opened, with Riley as branch manager, to bated breath from the “old timers” who were wary of how the small bank off the main thoroughfare would make out.
Today it’s a $40 million branch.
“Which is excellent, considering it was $0 20 years ago!” Riley said with a laugh.
That same year a branch opened in Loch Sheldrake, and others began popping up around the county.
Today there are 10 branches of the Jeff Bank and more than 150 employees – when Riley started, there were 2 branches and about 45 employees.
But it’s still “the everybody bank,” Riley said.
“Not only does someone always answer the phone, but if you wanted to call me, if you want to call [bank president] Raymond [Walter], you’d get us,” Riley said. “That old label, ‘the everybody bank,’ we really take that seriously.”
A people person from day one, Riley jokes that his retirement is a continuation of the fun he had working at Jeff Bank.
“People who like people, who like to come to work every day and accomplish something, you can do that here,” he explained. “It makes your job not a job.”
For a kid who started working at 8 years old cleaning up his father’s pharmacy, that’s saying a lot.
Riley has always worked, and he’s always been involved in his community.
He pushed a cart around North Philadelphia as a child picking up old newspapers that he took to a recycling company that would pay children a small fee based on the weight of the papers they’d brought in.
Riley said he’d earn more than $3 a day in the early 1950s collecting newspapers.
“That was a lot of money to a kid who then went immediately to the movies in the afternoon for 16 cents,” he said with a laugh.
As a teen, Riley worked in a bowling alley making sure the automatic machines that set the pins ran smoothly.
While the leagues bowled, he studied. And when something went wrong, he climbed into the machine and fixed it.
He played football and ran cross country, and when he entered the military he put his skills to use volunteering as a youth football coach near the Air Force base in Charleston, SC.
That year his team was second in the state of South Carolina.
Years later, working for Jeff Bank, Riley began volunteering in Sullivan County, putting in his time on the county ethics committee, as a president of the Sullivan County CARES Coalition, and member of the Economic Development Corporation that oversees the Emerald Corporate Park in Rock Hill.
He worked with SullivanARC for 10 years, served as board president for three and offered his financial know-how to the folks on the finance committee.
He volunteered as an EMT with the Town of Liberty Volunteer Ambulance Corps, served in the Lions Club and helped out with the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce Sullivan Hospitality campaign.
And after being raised a Lutheran, Riley converted to Catholicism in his 30s, traveling two nights a week to Esopus to attend Mount Saint Alphonsus seminary to become a deacon.
In 1983, he became the county’s first deacon serving at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Liberty, and he’s since served on the archdiocese realignment committee, the Cardinal’s Council in New York City and the archdiocesan committee for the deacons.
He likens the Catholic church to his work in the bank.
“You know it’s going to be pretty much what it was yesterday, it’ll be today,” he explained. “Things are going to change, but they’ll change with a purpose; it’s not going to be a willy nilly change.
“When you go into the church on Sunday, it’s going to be the church,” Riley continued. “When you go into the bank on Monday, it’s going to be the bank.”
There’s comfort in that, the comfort that faith brings Riley is complemented by the comfort of going to a job where he can accomplish something and have fun doing it.
“We’ve always reached our goals here,” he noted. “We’ve had a good board of directors; they’re very involved in the community and in the bank.
“You’ve got good management, and the best thing you’ve got are the employees.
“I remember it was exciting the first year we hit $1 million in profits,” Riley recalled. “Now we go over $5 million in regularity.”
And changes in the bank have put new commercial lender Mike Horodyski in the advertiser’s seat, his voice is replacing the one that makes people turn in a store and point at Riley with a furrowed brow, saying with certainty, “I know you.”
Riley said he’s just reached “that magical age.”
Mary Helen is now retired from teaching in the Liberty school system. Their daughter Katie is now a teacher at the Rutherford Elementary School in Monticello, and their son Matt and daughter-in-law Amy live in Vermont with the Rileys’ granddaughters, Breige and Harper.
Now it’s time to travel, to take long trips to Vermont and hit the links at the old Stevensville.
“There hasn’t been a dull moment,” Riley said of his first month of retirement. “You’re still doing things, but you do them when YOU want to do them!”

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