LONG BEACH — When it’s time to write the history of banking on the Long Beach Peninsula, Karen Kaino will be the go-to person for all the details.
That’s because she has served as historian of just about every group she’s ever joined.
Kaino retires Friday, April 13 after a 44-year career in banking, spent entirely on the Peninsula. An all-day open house is planned at the Key Bank branch in downtown Long Beach for people to drop in and wish her well.
As the date approached, Kaino reflected on her accomplishments.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of my career is the long-term relationships I have formed with clients over the years,” she said. “Some of the customers I banked with in the ’70s are still banking with me today — and their children and grandchildren.”
Kaino graduated from Ilwaco High School in 1972 and began studying at Western Washington University in Bellingham intent on becoming a teacher — but instead returned home to marry Todd Kaino.
She took a job as a vault teller in Ilwaco at the National Bank of Commerce, then the second-largest bank in Washington, in 1974. Over the years she worked for several banks. Rainier National Bank took over the National Bank of Commerce, which in turn was bought by Security Pacific National Bank.
Later, when Bank of America took over Security Pacific, monopoly/anti-trust rules meant it had to divest itself of several branches. So, in 1992, Key Bank bought several of its Southwest Washington operations, including the Long Beach and Ilwaco branches. The Ilwaco bank, originally on the corner site of Peninsula Pharmacy, has since closed.
Still a personal business
Mergers and acquisitions changed the names, but not the mission of the institutions, she said. “Even with all the innovations and changes in the banking industry, banking is still a personal business based on relationships.”
Kaino enjoyed several promotions as the years passed, to operations supervisor, personal banker and assistant vice president, becoming vice president-branch manager in 1995.
She continued her education through Clatsop Community College, Linfield College and various banking schools. Additionally, she was trained to offer investment and insurance advice with Key Investment Services and Key Corp. Insurance Agency USA.
When she began her career in the mid-1970s, Ilwaco was the most vibrant town on the Peninsula. Commercial and sport fishing were booming, and Long Beach was still developing its modern tourism chops. Oystering, clamming and cranberry growing were key industries and telephone utilities were among the largest employers.
Over the years, she has seen Ilwaco overtaken in commercial activity by Long Beach and Ocean Park, with considerable development on the “north end,” spurred in part by the Surfside housing community.
My, how things have changed
Enhancements in technology coupled with more complex banking regulations have changed the nuts and bolts of the industry. When Kaino started there were no computers. The adding machines and calculators would be considered primitive today. Checks were sorted on a huge metal board and statements were stuffed by hand.
“I remember hand-posting savings passbooks and hand-typing up promissory notes,” she said. “While the client was at my desk, they would sign and receive their funds on the spot. Loan interest was manually calculated and billed.”
Kaino smiles as she recalls the awe of seeing her first $1,000 bill — she didn’t get to hold it for too long because they were being taken out of circulation by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Many aspects have changed, but Kaino said despite the prevalence of ATMs, mobile and online banking, the overwhelming philosophy of helping customers through positive human contact is still the same.
“We desire to help each other,” said Kaino. Even though banks are money-making institutions, she said truly successful bankers realize that their client’s “financial wellness” should be at the heart of what they do. “Always do the right thing for the client,” she said.
Engaged in community
Community service through clubs and organizations has been a hallmark of Kaino’s life these past four and a half decades, drawing on values learned from family and through Chinook Lutheran Church.
A long-time Rotary Club member and past president (and historian, of course), she served two separate terms on the board of the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, and was its treasurer. She was a founding board member of the Ocean Beach Education Foundation, organizing its first auction fundraiser and serving for more than 10 years. She was a member of the Centennial Murals Committee and has helped at the Kite Festival, Razor Clam Festival and other events.
Although Karen Kaino is retiring, Todd Kaino, owner of the three Lighthouse Realty offices, plans to continue working. However, they plan to spend more time at their second home in Palm Springs, Calif., enjoying warmer winters, as well as sharing time with family. She has a brother and sister who live elsewhere, and two sisters, her twin Sherri Mosher, and Kathy Matthews, who both live on the Long Beach Peninsula.
Traveling is on Kaino’s “bucket list,” as well as flower gardening, catching early spring chinook salmon from their waterfront home in Altoona and going out on more morning clam digs.
Kaino revels in her Finnish heritage and loves to tell how her maternal grandmothers emigrated through Ellis Island in the 1800s and eventually landed in Naselle and Hammond, Ore. Grandma Keiski’s wool cape that she wore during the ocean crossing is preserved in the archives of the Ilwaco museum; Grandma Penttila’s great- great-grandchildren still live in Naselle.
“‘Sturdy Finnish women’ indeed!” Kaino smiles, in an accent that “Shanghaied in Astoria” actors would admire.
Heather Soule stepping up
Kaino will be succeeded as branch manager in Long Beach by Heather Soule, a long-time Key Bank employee.
Another 20-year Key Bank veteran is I.V. Reeves, area retail leader, who supervises Kaino from his Olympia office. He said Kaino’s success has been knowing all areas of banking, including commercial and investments. “She is very balanced,” Reeves said. “What I like most about Karen Kaino is she has been forward-thinking in leading the team in the Long Beach office. She will be thoroughly missed for all the knowledge that she has — but fortunately she is a good mentor.
“You simply cannot ‘replace’ a Karen Kaino, but fortunately she has groomed someone to take the reins.”
Content with career
As she hangs up her red jacket — a signature part of Key Bank’s branding — Kaino is content.
“I have been lucky over the years for all the opportunities for advancement and training as a woman. There are some powerful women in banking today,” she said.
Her bank’s chief executive is Beth E. Mooney, who Kaino has met when the Cleveland, Ohio-based executive has visited the Northwest. “She is one of the most powerful women in banking and very visible.”
Kaino’s own career was place-bound, but long-time relationships with customers and the opportunity for community service have made staying worthwhile, she said.
“You can be successful in one place. To grow my career beyond vice-president/branch manager I would have had to leave the area. This area is a beautiful area and I have lots of ties here, with friends and family.
“And you can’t beat a job where you commute from Ilwaco to Long Beach!”