‘You just learn it’
Pete Bushelman had been inside a bank only once in his life before he started his career.
“The only time I’d been inside one was when I was probably 16 or 17 and making a deposit for my father at the old Sharonville Bank,” he recalled. Adding to the improbability of his vocational choice: “I have no mind at all for math.”
Yet 50 years ago this month, armed with a Miami University degree in finance, Mr. Bushelman began working for Central Trust Bank (later absorbed by PNC Bank). He left there 31½ years later, having risen to positions including vice president and chief lending officer. His banking philosophy sounds as if it would fit into “It’s a Wonderful Life”: “You grow the community,” he said. “Companies don’t pay loans, people pay loans.”
No mathematics could adequately measure how much Mr. Bushelman, 85, has contributed to growing the community, through gifts of time, labor, and the species of financial support that doesn’t seek repayment. Three years ago, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr presented him with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal for service to the church. The award is the highest papal medal a layman can receive.
Mr. Bushelman lives in Cincinnati’s Wyoming suburb and belongs to St. James of the Valley parish. He grew up in nearby Glendale, the seventh of eight children in a Catholic family where charitable giving was taught by example.
“My dad was charitable,” Mr. Bushelman said. “He’d give his last dollar to the collection during the Depression. Coming from a family like that, you just learn it.”
The father, George, worked for the family business, Bushelman Supply, a provider of coal and building materials. (The Woodlawn-based enterprise, founded in 1927, has evolved in its services but remains owned and operated by Bushelman family members.) Pete Bushelman attended all 12 grades at Glendale’s St. Gabriel School, graduating in 1950. He then entered the Army, undergoing training as a tank driver and serving as a company clerk at Fort Knox.
From there it was on to Miami University, where he developed an awareness of the social need to support education. Mr. Bushelman remembers a professor telling the class that birth control is the solution to the world’s problems. “I was very open about my faith at the university,” Mr. Bushelman recalls. “I told him ‘Education is the solution to the world’s problems.’ And it really is.”
In 1963, he married Marilyn Koetter, whom he’d met while both were working for Central Trust. The couple would eventually have three sons, the oldest now 53. (Mrs. Bushelman passed away in 2011 at age 79.)
A partial list of Mr. Bushelman’s community service: Advisory board member for the Catholic Inner-city Schools Education Fund (CISE). Founding member of the HOME program of the Sisters of Mercy, which supports independent living for the elderly poor. Board memberships with St. Rita’s School for the Deaf; Sts. Peter and Paul Academy; Roger Bacon High School, and the former Edgecliffe College (since merged with Xavier University). President of the Practical Family Living Center. Serra Club member and contributor to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the Bishop Fenwick Society, Good Shepherd Montessori, the Cincinnati Center for Developmental Disabilities. the Catholic Ministries Appeal, and to One Faith, One Hope, One Love. An endowed scholarship at Mount Notre Dame High School is named for him.
“I live terribly simply,” he said. “My car is 21 years old. I live that way because it’s my preference. I’ve worked all my life. I still work. I have my charities.”
To assist the Catholic Community Foundation for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which administers funds for One Faith, One Hope, One Love, the former banker established a Donor Advised Fund he named “Mater Dei.”
(Such funds offer tax advantages and allow charitable donors to recommend how their grants will be spent. For information on how DAFs work, see this article from the Wall Street Journal.)
Mr. Bushelman already has begun work on the next Friends of CISE Raffle, an annual fundraiser he founded in 1980 and has served as chairman ever since. The event raises more than $120,000 each year.
“When you get old, you figure everything is God’s,” Mr. Bushelman said. “He doesn’t talk to me, but I talk to him.”
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