On June 29, 1893 when Herman and Anna Raaz founded the First Valley Junction Bank, now West Bank, located on the corner of 5th and Maple Streets in Valley Junction, Anna became one of the few women bankers at that time and the only woman to hold the position of cashier at a bank in Central Iowa.
Annie was born in Canton, Illinois and in 1874 moved with her family to a farm near Mitchellville, Iowa. Like many young women of her time, she became a teacher and taught school in Rippey, Iowa. At the age of 23, she married Herman Raaz whose occupation is listed on their marriage record as “druggist”. Nowadays, Herman would be called a serial entrepreneur and Annie was his capable partner. Born and raised in Elmira, NY, Herman had come west to Iowa at the age of 20 to seek his fortune. He started out as a cigar-maker in Jefferson and at the time of their marriage had a men’s clothing store in Rockwell City. The couple moved around Central Iowa owning several small businesses and gaining some work experience in banking.
By the early 1890’s, the couple had relocated to the bustling, rough and tumble railroad town of Valley Junction. The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad moved its East Des Moines roundhouse, switching yards and repair shops to the area during this time transforming the sleepy coal mining town of Valley Junction. Always ready to seize opportunity, Annie took in laundry for the railroad workers and Herman did odd jobs while they organized a new bank. Their vision for the community proved correct as many shops were established around the bank and 5th Street became the business hub of the town.
They developed many properties in the area, some of which still stand, including the Raaz Block which was headquartered at 201 5th Street. The 1899 Improvement Bulletin reported that another block was being developed by the couple which would be thoroughly modern. “It will be brick with terra cotta trimmings, steam heat, and baths for the apartments on the upper floors.” Although they had no children, Annie, having been a teacher, was interested in education and she and Herman helped organize the first school in Valley Junction. Today’s Holiday Park occupies a hayfield she owned, known as Annie’s Bottoms because it always flooded.
The couple operated the bank for 17 years before selling it to John Cavanaugh in June, 1910. By that time, Herman and Annie had established themselves as leading citizens in the community and were able to retire in their early 50’s.
At the time of the sale of the bank, the Des Moines Register and Leader published an article which tells us much of what we know about our West Bank trailblazer:
“When President Herman Raaz of the First Valley Junction Savings Bank disposed of the property to John Cavanaugh Wednesday and retired, the sale eliminated from banking activities in Polk county and central Iowa the only woman who has discharged the duties of cashier of an institution of this kind.
The bank was established June 29, 1893, seventeen years to a day from the time Mr. Raaz sold to Mr. Cavanaugh. For fifteen years and a half, the entire time the bank was privately conducted, Mrs. A. E. Raaz, his wife, was cashier, and after its incorporation one and a half years ago, she continued in that capacity until the bank changed ownership, making a record as a banker, perhaps held by no other woman in the state.
It is said of Mrs. Raaz that she was quite familiar with the signatures of every business man and nearly all the men employed in the shops at Valley Junction to the extent that she never cashed a check upon which the signature was not genuine. She was an adept at counting and paying out money, so much so, indeed, that it was sometimes suggested that she would have made a first class ticket seller and cashier for a great show.
Mrs. Raaz has a remarkable recollection for faces, and it is said of her that there are few residents of Valley Junction who were not known to her personally or by sight. There are several women bankers in Iowa, but it is believed that Mrs. Raaz out ranks all of them in seniority.“
It would seem that Annie was also great at security and fraud prevention!
Retirement didn’t stop them from building strong relationships and a strong community in Valley Junction as Herman continued his real estate dealings and Annie hosted many social events in their home. They rest side by side in the Masonic Cemetery in Des Moines and would be proud to know that their legacy carries on 125 years after they opened their little bank.