University of Mary pays tribute to Starion’s 50th anniversary and its humble founder with a book launch celebration Tuesday, Feb. 19, 10:30 a.m.

Oakes Original Bank—
When Frank and JoAndrea Larson bought the First national bank of Oakes in 1969, it was housed in this building, which was built for the bank in 1902. Today, the building hosts the Dickey County Heritage Center.

BISMARCK, ND — In 1969, Frank Larson didn’t know much about banking when he bought his first bank in Oakes, North Dakota (First National Bank). That didn’t matter to Frank. The 40-year- old lawyer knew if he stuck to his Christian values and surrounded himself with good people who did know the business, he would stand a chance.

Frank did more than that and his risk gradually turned to good fortune. It wasn’t by luck, but through genuinely wanting to see families and businesses succeed and enabling his banks to best serve their communities they were in.

North Dakota Senator John Hoeven describes Frank Larson as a “fine man,” and called him a “community builder,” for the state of North Dakota. Hoeven’s father knew Frank, and shared the same values. Hoeven added, “That means not just making loans to people and businesses, but really getting to know them and their families. In essence, doing all the things that truly enrich community life. Frank has made a positive difference in my life and, I know, in the lives of so many others. He has done what we should all strive to do—he has helped make the world a better place.”

Larson Family Photo
Frank and JoAndrea larson with their children circa 1967 (Left to right):
Craig, Scott, Michael and Heidi.

He didn’t do it alone. His past experience as a US Air Force veteran of the Korean War, and service as a State Legislator gave him the street smarts to succeed on his own. But it’s his North Dakota values growing up as the youngest of five children in Valley City that helped lay the groundwork for developing his high character. In 1954, Frank met the most important person of his life, JoAndrea (Ellingson). The two married and had four children: Scott, Heidi, Michael and Craig. But little did they know at the time that Frank’s career course would change and lead to a family banking business that is known today as Starion Bank. While JoAndrea stayed away from the day-to-day operations of the banks, she served on its Board of Directorsand was integral to shaping the bank’s culture.

“At board meetings, JoAndrea brought out things like, how are we treating customers?” Frank recalled. “She became very involved with the employees and their welfare. JoAndrea was the kind of person who instinctively knew when someone was facing challenges, and she was always available for them to unload personal problems. She added a lot that way. So many people were happy that she would share time with them.”

Frank’s Extra Mile: A Gentleman’s Story

The rest of the story is told in a 156-page book called Frank’s Extra Mile: A Gentleman’s Story, written by Patrick McCloskey and published by University of Mary Press in honor of Frank’s life and the banking legacy of the Larson family. The public and media are invited to a free celebratory book launch Tuesday, February 19, inside the Gary Tharaldson School of Business’s Butler Auditorium. The event features a social at 10:30 a.m., followed by a panel discussion from 11 a.m. until noon.

“While I am a bank owner, I’ve never worked in a bank one single day,” Frank said in a personal message to Starion employees. “I’ve always tried to inspire our employees to do their best to serve each customer. I want you to be concerned with the person in front of you and go the extra mile for them. I hope I’ve inspired you to set high expectations and to help people along the way. Helping people has always been important to me. Because of you, we’ve helped families buy homes, entrepreneurs build businesses, farmers grow and communities thrive.”

Frank and JoAndrea Larson Portrait

Frank’s Extra Mile: A Gentleman’s Story, dedicated to JoAndrea following her passing in 2018, chronicles the life of Frank and his love for impacting peoples’ lives in a good way through banking, while helping the state’s economy grow and thrive. The book also highlights Starion’s rising trajectory in the banking industry.

Today, Starion has 250 employees with 12 locations in North Dakota and three in Wisconsin. It has increased its bank assets from $4.5 million in 1969 to $1.25 billion in 2018 — with a 22 percent asset growth rate over the last five years. And, it is recognized as one of the “Best of the Best” community banks in America by Independent Banker.

“I have never been concerned about making money,” said Frank. “As a banker, I’m just trying to help people do what they want to do and, in the process, it has been a pretty good life for me.”

First Lady Laura Bush standing beside Frank Larson at a dinner on October 2, 2008 at the University of Mary’s Harold Schafer Leadership center. Other guests included, left to right: Russell F. Freeman (former U.S. Ambassador to Belize), Sr. Thomas Welder, Nancy Jones Schafer (former First Lady of North Dakota) and Rosemary Myrdal (former Lt. Gov. of North Dakota).

“Frank Larson truly represents the best of North Dakota — vision, diligence, honesty in life and integrity in business, a warmhearted concern for others, and lifelong history of positive community-building,” said Sister Thomas Welder, University of Mary’s president emerita.

Craig Larson, Frank’s youngest son, took over the operations in 1997 as CEO and president. He learned first–hand from his father’s passion for banking and approach to serving others.

Frank and Craig Larson in July 2016 at the 10th Anniversary celebration of the opening of Starion’s first branch in Middleton Wisconsin.

“Part of Frank’s legacy at Starion Bank is that he created an environment that values relationships, wanting to know our customers so we can not only do what is asked, but be a partner in solving challenges and anticipating needs,” said Craig. “A bank is a conduit to help people realize their dreams, whether it’s home ownership, business ownership, expanding a business, saving for retirement or buying a home, and those are all great things to be part of.”

The bottom line is that making money has always been a means and never an end for Frank. Indeed, there was tremendous pressure on his banks, especially in the beginning, to generate a substantial profit to survive. But accumulating wealth was not the goal. “I’ve always been more concerned about what I can do with the money I make,” Frank said. “I wanted to help people and banking was the perfect vehicle for me.”