South Dakota banking icon Farrar dies at 92

Frank Farrar

Prolific Midwest bank owner and former South Dakota governor Frank Farrar died Sunday at the age of 92. 

Born in Britton, S.D., on April 2, 1929, Farrar served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, retiring from the Army Reserve as a captain. Farrar earned a law degree from the University of South Dakota in 1953, and worked as an agent for the Internal Revenue Service. He was named the state’s youngest attorney general in 1963, a position he held for six years before becoming the state’s 24th governor from 1969-71. 

Farrar left politics after he was defeated in his bid for a second term. He went on to chair several holding companies and entered into various business opportunities, including real estate, insurance, farming, banking and investments. Farrar also supported charitable programs that emphasized poverty, poor health and job opportunities. A farmer in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, he served as the former state chair of the March of Dimes and director of the South Dakota Community Foundation.

Farrar owned more than two-dozen rural banks during the late 1980s, a time of cratering farm prices in the nation’s ailing Midwest. He used his personable nature to swing deals in a familiar routine: buy a bank nearing collapse loaded with non-performing loans to ailing farmers, replace its management, clean up the loan portfolio and sell it. Many of the banks were in rural areas where the existence of a solid bank was paramount to the survival of the town. 

After being told he had cancer at age 65, Farrar began competing in triathlons and Ironman competitions, endurance tests he said helped him beat cancer. Farrar emphasized that a positive attitude is a key to success. He also saw good management as crucial to successful banking. “He’s easygoing,” said long-time business associate Gene Hawk in a July 1986 Commercial West magazine article. “He puts up with a hell of a lot but I’ve never seen him become angry.”