Story and photos by Mary Sheely
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Popular wisdom holds that it’s best not to combine monetary transactions with friendship. Diane Steele gives the lie to that one. Steele will spend her last day as a teller at the Junction Wells Fargo Bank tomorrow, retiring just a month shy of 27 years at that location.
She’s made so many friends of her customers during that time, one of them, Kayla Weiner, got in touch with us to make sure Steele received the tribute she deserved.
“She is an amazing person who knows the name of everyone,” Weiner told WSB. “She knows about them and their family. Last year she even made a donation for me when I did the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk. She is an institution, as those who know her can attest. I for one will really miss her.”
A visit to Steele’s branch confirms those sentiments. A huge card and message book are filling up with well wishes from devoted customers and coworkers. On Friday, customers and locals are invited to come in during business hours to help Steele celebrate (and grab a slice of cake while it lasts).
Steele is standing in the lobby when customer Andrew Carl enters the bank.
“How’s the little one today?” she immediately inquires about Carl’s baby at home.
“I try to be what everyone wants a banker to be,” Steele says. “And it must have worked. I’ve had customers who came in with their parents as little kids, they grew up and came here, and their kids now come here. It’s like being part of the family.”
Steele has actually been working at this location even longer than Wells Fargo — 22 years ago, the location was still a branch of First Interstate Bank; she’s been working as a bank teller for almost 40 years. In that time, the industry has obviously changed quite a bit, and current public sentiment toward the banking industry is likely to be negative.
“I think all of them know that’s not what I am,” Steele says of her customers. “I know when their grandparents died. I know when their parents got married. I know when they got married, when they graduated from school, when they got their drivers license. I think that’s why they stay with me for so long.
“Nowadays, I think my main priority is the customer” as opposed to simply banking, she continues. “That’s what’s the difference. I don’t care if they have two cents of 30 million dollars.”
“She’s just great with people,” says teller Terri Varney, who’s worked with Steele for 15 years. “She sets a great example for all of us.”
Wells Fargo West Seattle Store Manager Thomas V. Than, who says he is “very excited for her, and also very sad to be losing such a huge part of our team,” tells one of many stories of Steele going far beyond her role as a teller.
“Last year, a customer locked his keys in his car,” Than recalls. “Rain was pouring down outside. She took him home to get his spare key. Those are the kinds of things that she does, never thinking about it, just loving what she’s doing and doing it well.”
Helping a customer retrieve a set of keys is a good story, but there’s actually a little more to it. Thanks to Steele’s help, the man who locked his keys in his car was able to make it to the hospital in time to say goodbye to his dying mother-in-law.
That kind of caring, says Varney, “especially in this day and age, sometimes gets kind of pushed to the side. She brings it all around.”
When Steele leaves Wells Fargo tomorrow, she’ll be taking with her something else that’s been a familiar sight to customers: a painting of a wolf that currently hangs behind the counter.
It’s Steele’s work, which she’s been pursuing along with the painting group Pastel Art, comprised mainly of artists who live north of Seattle, for the past ten years. Now that Steele’s retiring, she’s going to look into joining a painting group a little closer to home.
Steele also plans to spend time with her husband, himself a recent retiree, who’s “wanting to have me home.” In fact, her marriage sounds as happy and long-lasting as her career has been.
“We’ve been together 43 years,” Steele says. “I got some staying power.”