Icon of agricultural banking dies

Frank Bruning (right) was honored in 1997 with the ABA’s first Bruning Award. Bruning’s son, Fred (center), won the award in 2018. Pictured with them at an ABA reception in Frank’s honor is John Blanchfield, who retired from the ABA in 2015. Blanchfield, who shared this photo, reflected on Bruning: “I visited Frank … He had his award hung in a place of honor in his office. Next to it was a framed copy of the American Banker newspaper. Frank was featured in a front page article … Written in the margin of the paper was a note that read something like, ‘Dear Frank, while I have never met you, you sound like a heck of a heck of a guy… your friend, Warren Buffett.’ To the best of my knowledge it is still hanging in his office.”

Frank Bruning, chairman emeritus of Bruning State Bank in Bruning, Neb., died June 1 after a fall at his home. 

Bruning began his life’s work in 1964, working in the bank his grandfather helped launch in the late 1800s. The bank was then called The German Bank, a nod to the family’s ancestry. The family changed the name of the bank to Bruning State Bank after World War I. 

In an interview with this publication in 1997, Bruning credited his success in banking to his father, “who stressed the importance of being a ‘country banker,’ ” — and his many long-time employees. 

Bruning was known throughout Nebraska as “Banker Frank.” He was heavily involved in agricultural endeavors, including on his own land, where he farmed corn, alfalfa, wheat and grass. He also raised cattle. 

In his middle 90s at the time of his death, Bruning is perhaps best known in banking circles for the award that carries his name: The Bruning Award, which is the lifetime achievement award bestowed upon agricultural bankers who’ve achieved excellence in their careers. The award is sponsored by the American Bankers Association. 

Bruning was presented the first award in 1997, and a new Bruning Award recipient has been named annually ever since. 

Frank’s son Fred Bruning received the award in 2018, thus creating the only father/son duo to have received the award. Fred Bruning is chair and CEO of Bruning State Bank.

In addition to his industry work with the ABA, Bruning was active in the Nebraska Bankers Association and the American Hereford Association. 

John Blanchfield, former head of agricultural policy for the ABA, said at the time the award was established that Bruning, “epitomized the ideals of how ag banking should be done.”

Arrangements have not yet been announced.