Another of Venice’s lions passed away this week.
Merle Graser actually was a Lion — president of the local chapter of the service organization in 1964 — but he was much more than that to Venice as a civic leader in the business community for 30 years and then, after retiring, as a two-term mayor.
Recruited here by First National Bank of Venice in 1963, he worked his way up the ladder to serve as president, CEO and chairman of the board. He held the latter two titles when the bank was sold to SunTrust in 1993.
He saw that if the bank helped people in the community, both they and the bank would prosper. So loans to small businesses and consumers became First National’s bread and butter.
Before banking became a heavily regulated industry it wasn’t uncommon, Graser’s son Shaun told us, for a local business owner to call him about needing a quick loan — to make payroll, for example — and be told to come in to pick the money up later that day and stop by the next morning to do the paperwork.
“A lot of good relationships were built on a handshake and faith in each other,” he said.
So was one of the most successful independent banks in the country.
And a great community partner.
On behalf of the bank, Graser donated the land just north of it to the city for a park and park for the fountain that was installed there.
He commissioned a film on the history of the city and chaired its land acquisition committee.
He served in financial or fundraising capacities for numerous organizations, including the United Fund (now United Way), Loveland, Venice Hospital, Hospice, the Senior Friendship Center and Manatee Community College (now State College of Florida).
The list of local boards he served on is even longer. Many times he was a founding member.
Then after the bank sold, when he and his wife, Pat, could have indulged their love of travel, he ran for mayor, and ran again for reelection.
Shaun Graser told us that his father’s decision to continue to serve the city even in retirement was what taught him what it truly meant to give back.
Like Dan Boone, who passed away in December, Graser contributed to his adopted home in nearly countless large and small ways but eschewed the credit. The only thing in Venice that bears his name is a park, and that’s because his family wanted to honor him.
Business associate Roland Caldwell told us that Graser wouldn’t want an obituary like the one we printed Wednesday listing many of his contributions to the city he had a passion for. Presumably, he wouldn’t like this editorial either.
We understand that sentiment but we think the people in Venice both want and ought to know about those who contributed so much to make it what it is.
The city didn’t spring out of the ground fully formed. Many men and women went above and beyond to grow it and nurture it. When they pass, it’s only proper to pay tribute to them.
That includes you, Mr. Mayor. Thanks for all you did.