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Daily Pilot

Banks are rightly taking a lot of heat for their part in our economy's dismal state. So when a positive bank story surfaces, it deserves to be told. And by a remarkable coincidence, we have one right here in Newport Beach.

This positive bank story started almost 60 years ago when Cal and Anne Siegle packed up their family in Butler, Pa., moved briefly to Dallas then pushed onward and settled in Newport Beach. They were more than ready to put down roots, especially since Cal had been old enough and young enough to be directly involved in both World War II and the Korean War.

One of the early roots that the Siegles sought was a neighborhood bank where they could manage the business of their family. This was still a time when banks were thought of that way. . But there was a true neighborhood bank, which overlooked the bridge to Balboa Island. It turned out to be a long relationship.

As Cal and Anne's daughter, Candace, put it, "We stuck with the bank through a variety of names, but none of them were ever as important as Union."

One thing that didn't change over all these years was sitting around a coffee table in an alcove of the bank for a cup or two that accompanied every visit the Siegles made to the bank — even after Anne became increasingly ill. Again as Candace remembers it, "When she descended further into Alzheimer's, the friendship and support of the bank and its customers became more and more important."

And when Anne was put into a nursing home, Cal found solace in visiting the bank daily, and so the Union Coffee Club was born. So close was the connection that when Anne died in December 2008, club members served as pall bearers, and the club became an institution with a life of its own.

When I stopped by unannounced last Monday morning at about 9:15, the coffee was already flowing and I was welcomed by the four members present who grew to seven before the meeting adjourned and the coffeepot was dry. This, I was told, is one of the club's two rules: Members gather at 9 a.m. and wrap at 10, and only bank customers are eligible.

Cal was presiding from a chair that is sacrosanct in keeping with his position as Founding Father and oldest member. At 93, the only visible concession he makes to his age is that he gave up driving on his last birthday and depends on his fellow members to get him to his daily meeting, which has become the highlight of his day. In addition to Cal, Dave, Bill, Don and Ed were present when I arrived. Walt and Bob came later, and Jeff and Jude not at all.

Because I didn't have time to sort them out, I can't attribute quotes. But the photograph on the alcove wall of Cal with then-President Gerald Ford offers a clue. So I got a political count up front. Six regular Republicans, one "right-right Republican," one Democrat and one maybe. Neither of the last two appeared to defend themselves, but I was told that the tiny table adjacent to the large coffee table was for the lone Democrat whenever he was present.

I was also told there are no planned topics for discussion; "We just talk about whatever comes up." Or, less delicately, "the discussion leader is whoever opens his mouth first."

But the nature of the talk at these daily sessions isn't what I see as making them noteworthy. Rather, it is the preservation of the concept of the neighborhood bank where first names are still appropriate and civility is the language spoken. You can go and see for yourself. The coffee, like the talk, is free. Courtesy of the bank. And I was also told that the best deal is on Friday when there are cookies to go with the coffee.

While we're talking about clubs to join, you might want to consider the Brooklyn Bridge Society. This was the group formed many years ago to buy a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge.

You possibly haven't heard that they have established a branch office in Orange County called the Airport Improvement Group. It is dedicated to promoting the idea that it will be possible to maintain the current noise limits while converting John Wayne Airport to an international airport and serving the influx of passengers who will be using the six new boarding gates that are not — we are told — for expansion.

All members need to do to qualify is to first believe — really believe — that the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale. And, second, to believe that expansion isn't driving the current construction at JWA.

Oh, yes. One other thing. We can also make damn sure that every Orange County supervisor who supports this expansion on the backs of the people who live in Newport-Mesa don't get elected. Ever.

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