The American Bankers Association today announced the recipients of its annual Bruning and Blanchfield Awards, the association’s premier awards presented for significant contributions to agricultural banking. ABA will honor Leonard Wolfe, president and CEO of United Bank and Trust based in Marysville, Kan. with the Bruning Award and Robert Craven, associate director of the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University of Minnesota, with the Blanchfield Award at the ABA Agricultural Bankers Conference, Nov. 5-8 in Oklahoma City.
Leonard Wolfe is this year’s recipient of the ABA Bruning Award, which recognizes the lifetime achievement of agricultural bankers for their leadership and outstanding dedication to providing credit and financial guidance to farmers, ranchers and businesses in rural America. Named after its first recipient, Nebraska banker Frank Bruning, the Bruning Award is now in its 26th year.
“I cannot express how proud and honored I am to have received such a prestigious award,” Wolfe said. “It’s humbling to me that I was even considered for an award like this and to be a recipient, it’s such a great honor.”
Wolfe, a native of Kansas who has more than 40 years of experience in banking, began his career as an agricultural lender and insurance agent. He later accepted a position as president of the Home State Bank, where he worked for his mentor Virgil Lair. Wolfe later managed three additional banks under Lair for nearly a decade.
One of Wolfe’s key accomplishments during his career was pushing for the creation of a Kansas law that gives community banks the same tax-exempt status on certain earned interest as farm credit institutions. The Kansas bill—similar to the ABA-supported ACRE Act introduced in the House and Senate earlier this year—also includes a tax exemption for rural housing loans in communities with populations of 2,500 or less, allowing farm real estate borrowers and rural homeowners access to lower interest rates.
“My biggest motivation is to help our communities and our customers,” said Wolfe. “There are many threats to communities in rural America and it sometimes feels like all the cards are stacked against us, but as a community banker we can help change that so our customers and people within our communities compete with the rest of the world.”
While chair of ABA’s Agricultural Credit Task Force, Wolfe, one of the largest agricultural real estate lenders in Kansas, testified on the state of agricultural credit before the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture.
“Leonard has been an incredible champion for promoting the competitiveness of community banks and ag banks,” said Doug Wareham, president and CEO of Kansas Bankers Association.
Wolfe has also served as chairman of the Kansas Bankers Association and the Kansas Banking Commission.
In addition to his roles representing his fellow agricultural bankers, Wolfe is a demonstrated leader. Hired by Gold Banc after his work with Lair, he helped facilitate a merger between Peoples National Bank of Clay Center and Tri-County Bank. He was then president and regional manager of the Peoples National Bank with the responsibility of overseeing 12 branches spread across the state of Kansas. When Gold Banc decided to sell some of its locations in 2003, Wolfe raised money to purchase and capitalize the banks. This led him to becoming president, CEO and chairman of the board at United Bank and Trust, a position he still holds nearly 20 years later.
Today, Wolfe lives on a farm North of Frankfort, Kan. with his wife of 45 years. They have two daughters, a son and nine grandchildren.
The ABA Blanchfield Award, named in honor of former senior vice president of ABA’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Banking John Blanchfield, recognizes the contributions of a non-banker who has made significant additions to the advancement of agricultural lending.
This year’s recipient, Robert Craven, is an experienced ag economist with the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University of Minnesota.
“I’m surprised, honored and humbled to receive this award,” said Craven. “Educators that have won this in the past have all been folks I’ve looked up to during my career.”
Craven’s career first kickstarted when ABA, the University of Minnesota and community banks in the state provided funds and hired him to test computerized credit analysis systems which eventually became FINPACK. His connection to ABA continued to grow, and he has now presented at ABA’s National Agricultural Bankers Conference for more than 20 years.
Craven, who has been employed at University of Minnesota for 41 years, has been part of the Center for Farm Financial Management since its start and served 22 years as its director. In 2000, he co-founded the national schools for beginning and experienced agriculture bankers that he currently co-leads with the South Dakota Bankers Association. He was also an instructor for over 15 years at the Midwest Banking Institute.
With a background in economics and agriculture, Craven predicts a bumpy road ahead, but believes the industry is in a good position to handle it.
“Since we’re coming out of a high profitability period for agriculture, the next few years are going to be a little more difficult in terms of profitability, especially within livestock,” said Craven. “I think the industry has good liquidity and it should be able to get through it okay.”
Raised on a Southwestern Minnesota farm, Craven has always had a natural affinity for agriculture. Passed down from his grandparents to his father to him, Craven runs a soybean and corn farm. He drives nearly three hours from his home in St. Paul, to Jackson, Minn. to tend to the land during planting and harvest seasons every year. But he doesn’t do it alone. Craven, a father of one son, also has two sisters, a nephew and an 86-year-old mother who get involved during harvest.
“I’m most proud of having a really satisfying career serving agriculture and the people in that industry,” said Craven.
Outside of the farm, Craven enjoys traveling and hiking. He began working half time with his role at the University of Minnesota beginning this past summer, and plans to use the free time to focus on traveling with his spouse. It will also mean a little more time at the farm where he plans to farm for a number of more years.
***NOTE TO EDITORS: Reporters enjoy complimentary access to the ABA Agricultural Bankers Conference in Oklahoma City Nov. 5-8. View the full program and contact Sarah Grano (email@example.com) to register.