John Engel’s legacy will be easy to define.
He was an honest, hard-working man, as loyal as they came, with a dry sense of humor, and a legendary scowl.
In the banking business, he demanded excellence, and when it was attained, he rewarded it.
As a husband, father and eventual grandfather, he was the proverbial putty in the hands of those who loved him most.
John was called home on Jan. 6, after a long and courageous battle with an illness. As he worked to stay in good health, through rounds of treatment, he never complained, other than to say he was tired on certain days. He wanted to enjoy as much time as possible with his wife, Jan, and the couple’s daughters, and the grandchildren. It was just recently that John and Jan had purchased a beautiful new home in Teaneck, and John couldn’t wait to move in.
John and I went back a while. I first met him in 1982, when I was a newcomer to the banking business. We both worked at National Community Bank of New Jersey. He was a branch manager at the time, at an office in Carlstadt. I was a management trainee who was assigned to work in his office for a few days.
Eventually, John moved up to the rank of Vice President and Regional Administrator in what was referred to as ‘Region 3’ at NCB, which encompassed northern Bergen County, including Teaneck, where John lived, Englewood, Hackensack, South Hackensack, Ridgefield, Edgewater and Norwood. John was a natural for that RA role, which required a strong background in branch operations. He was never the guy who enjoyed making the business calls on prospective customers, but loved to delve into the guts of banking, making sure all the branches he was assigned to administer were towing the line.
In 1986, I was named a branch manager in John’s region, and for the next eight years, we became pretty good friends. He would always be on my case about something, making sure my office in Ridgefield, and later in Englewood, was following strict procedures. John taught me the importance of diligence, of following up and never thinking I was too good at my job.
He and our Senior Officer, Mike Ferrara, ran a fun region. Mike was the ultimate businessman, always looking to make a good commercial loan while John was the guy making sure the money we made on loans wasn’t slipping out the back door in the form of poor auditing control.
I eventually became a Vice President at NCB, through Mike and John’s guidance, and will tell you those were wonderful times to be in the business.I remember those legendary barbeques at John’s house on Memorial Day weekend. John loved car racing and usually the barbecue was on the day of the Indianapolis 500. So, John would use the VCR to tape the race, and made sure none of us would tell him who won before he could watch it that night.
When NCB was purchased by the Bank of New York in 1993, John’s administrative duties moved him onto a new bank, where I eventually joined him at the Trust Co. of New Jersey. We would also work together at a bank in Union, NJ. John eventually retired from banking a few years back, and I’m happy to say we remained good friends.
We would have dinner once a month, for a while, and he had that same crazy, dry sense of humor. We’d reminisce about the people we worked with during the NCB days and kid about the fact that he detested flying in an airplane. When we worked together at NCB, and I went on a vacation to California, he’s often kid me to take flight insurance and name him as the beneficiary.
When he was diagnosed with an illness last year, he called me to say he was optimistic about his future. We would e-mail each other regularly, and I kept telling him I would love to stop by and have some pizza with him, just to catch up. He said we would, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
On Jan. 7, his wife Jan sent me a note to give her a call. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be an enjoyable call, but when she said he had died the night before, it still hit home.
There are people who leave an indelible impression on one’s life, simply by being a good man.
John Engel was such a person. He did what a man is supposed to do, and wanted no fanfare in return. In true John Engel fashion, his last e-mail to me, on Dec. 17, 2014, was one of his usual crazy political messages, which always drew a laugh, or two.
Thank you, John, for being a friend and teaching much more than what it took to succeed in business. I’ll miss those crazy e-mails with a political overtone that we both agreed on, and I’ll miss not having those dinners with you.
God Bless you, John.
Until we meet again.