Longtime South Jersey bank chairman and civic leader Gerard M. Banmiller dies at 75

Gerard M. Banmiller, 75, formerly of Mount Laurel, a longtime banker in Philadelphia and South Jersey, and outspoken civic leader, died Wednesday, August 17 of brain degeneration at his home in Summerville , SC

Adept at opening banks and building financial relationships with millionaires and those not so wealthy, and particularly proud of his work in funding Collingswood’s downtown revitalization, Mr. Banmiller began his career as a 50 years in 1972 at the Girard Bank. Four years later, at 33, he became the youngest senior vice president of Midlantic National Bank.

He then opened and served as President of Community National Bank in Haddon Township in 1987 and grew it to eight branches before its acquisition by Hudson United Bank in 1998.

In 2000, cheering customers waited outside on lawn chairs when he opened the 1st Colonial Bank in Collingswood. Using an advertising campaign called “Gerry’s back”, 1st Colonial raised over $1 million in deposits and closed over $500,000 in first day loans, became profitable in just six months and has exceeded its three-year financial projections in the first year.

He served as president until his retirement in 2020, and 1st Colonial became known throughout the city as “Gerry’s Bank”. Mr Banmiller told The Inquirer in 2019: “The guy who hired me at Girard [in 1972] told me I wouldn’t last. Too arrogant.

Indeed, Mr. Banmiller’s oversized personality has served him well over the years. Using his own distinctive voice, he recorded effective radio commercials for 1st Colonial that featured grumpy reviews of competing banks and rallied his loyal clientele to stick with him.

“You can always count on me to speak my mind,” Mr. Banmiller told The Inquirer in 1999.

He was so popular with his customers and neighbors that his wife, Fran Verna, was shocked when they were introduced in 1985 at the Kaminski sports bar and restaurant in Cherry Hill. “I had never met a banker with groupies,” she said. “People were always around him. It kind of sucked the energy into the room. I was overwhelmed by the people he knew.

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In an online tribute, a friend said, “He shot straight from the hip. He doesn’t pull any punches and tells you exactly what it is. But when he was with a bunch of guys from Collingswood, he was one of the guys. Another said: ‘We have built lives based on his generous commitment to the small business community.

Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley told The Inquirer in 2019: “The bank has been a great help to the town, a great asset to the community, and it’s all due to them.

Mr Banmiller told The Inquirer: “Our line is, ‘We’re nice people with money.’ I drive as hard as I can, of course everyone says so, but I know my customers.

To increase his financial activities and contribute to civic life beyond banking, Mr. Banmiller became chairman of the Collingswood Business Improvement Districts and the American Diabetes Association of South Jersey, chairman of Camden County Improvement Authority and of the Collingswood Zoning Board, Vice Chairman of the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority and Trustee of the Board of Trustee Trust Account Interest.

He also served on the Camden State-appointed Financial Review Committee in the 1990s and bid unsuccessfully to win a New Jersey General Assembly seat in the Sixth District as a Republican in 1999.

Born July 28, 1947 in Norristown, Mr. Banmiller graduated from Bishop Kenrick High School and Villanova University in 1969, and attended the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He studied law at Villanova for a year, was adept in his use of language, and testified as an expert witness in court regarding financial matters. He also testified against a bank robber who held him at gunpoint at Girard Bank in a harrowing incident in the 1970s.

After an earlier marriage and divorce from Abby Dean, he married Verna in 1987 and they lived in Collingswood and Mount Laurel. He helped his wife raise his three daughters, doted on his grandchildren, and later traced his family roots to Germany and his to Italy.

They also traveled to Russia, Croatia, Spain, Greece and elsewhere. He cared for a German Shepherd and Golden Retrievers, and enjoyed hunting and listening to classical music.

“His hobby,” his wife said, “was banking. He was a good guy with good instincts. For me, it was a big teddy bear.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Banmiller is survived by his ex-wife and other relatives. A brother died earlier.

Services were September 9.

Donations in his name may be made to Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19130.

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