Banker, public servant, 90, keeps adding new chapters to memorable story

Published Apr 30, 2017 at 9:00am

He may by 90-years-old, but Roman Albert J. Pallas doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Pallas may have retired from the banking business some years back, but days after retirement he was already put back to work for Birnie Bus Service, Inc. serving as school bus driver, but now works in the back office.

Born March 1, 1927 to Alvah and Florentine Pallas, their only child, Pallas said he was the first baby born in the Rome Infirmary.

“I was the first cesarean section performed by Dr. Reed,” Al said, explaining that his mother was in distress during labor.

Pallas would later graduate from Rome Free Academy as a member of the Class of 1946, which had about 400 members, he said. He would attend Mohawk Valley Community College for two years, majoring in accounting — but those milestones weren’t reached until after he got a call from Uncle Sam.

“I was drafted” for service during World War II, “in the second to last draft in the city,” he said. “I was still in school, yet they drafted me. After my service and I came home, I had to go back to RFA to get 2-3 credits in order to graduate. I did that and picked up my certificate of graduation in 1946 in the principal’s office.”

Pallas served in the U.S. Army from June 25, 1945 to Nov. 25, 1946, when he was honorably discharged. He was discharged as a corporal after 16 months.

He was shipped to Camp Wheeler, Ga. for infantry training soon after being drafted. He was later transferred to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Ind. where he worked in Army payroll.

From there he went to Fort Douglas, Utah, located within the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains and two miles from Salt Lake City. After one year of service in Utah, Pallas was discharged from there.

Prior to his graduation however, and while attending high school, Pallas worked for Springbrook Dairy. Before that, starting at 10 years-old, Pallas was a carrier for the Rome Daily Sentinel.

“I went from milking cows to driving school bus,” Pallas quipped when recalling the varied jobs he’s held over his lifetime.

“The Rayfile and Gochee families ran the dairy and they adopted me as a member of the family,” Pallas said.

“When I was discharged, I went back to work in the milk plant where they bottled the milk. Six other farms brought their milk to the plant for processing. We pasteurized the milk and then homogenization came into being. We were one of the first plants to do it. We put it through the separator to get the heavy cream out.”

While at the dairy, Pallas also became a state licensed cheese maker. But in 1950 he would leave the dairy business and put his accounting degree to work while getting a job at Beneficial Finance, a small loan company with affiliates located in Rome, Albany and Kingston, N.Y., Pallas said.

Pallas also worked for Goldberg’s Department Store located downtown.

Pallas said he worked for Beneficial Finance for a year or less before a friend wanted him to come work for Farmers National Bank. That was in 1955. Farmers would later become Marine Midland Bank.

“It was the only bank” at the time “that was someplace besides New York City and in Buffalo,” he said.

On Oct. 3, 1955, Pallas started as a teller down at the main bank on Dominick Street. One day the president of Marine Midland would approach Pallas to start a new venture.

“The president said he was opening a bank branch in Rome and that he’d like me to run it,” Pallas recalled. “It had the first drive-in and was located on Black River Boulevard where NBT Bank is now. Back then the bank used to be open until 8:30 p.m. and some nights I’d be there until 1 a.m.”

From there Pallas was promoted to vice-president of Marine Midland, where he also served as a mortgage officer. He worked there for 35 years until his retirement — or perhaps, semi-retirement.

In 1956 he would marry his love Nancy O’Brien. The couple has been together for 61 years. Their children are Thomas Pallas (Debra), MaryBeth Babcock (Matthew), and Dr. Carol Pallas, superintendent of Schalmont School District.

But during his banking work, Pallas remained very active within his community.

His list of civil duties is long, including being past member and Chairman of the Board at Bethany House for three years; member of St. Mary’s/St. Peter’s Church where he now serves as a Eucharistic minister and lector; past member of the Knights of Columbus; member of the Lee Center American Legion; and past member of the Military Affairs Committee at the former Griffiss Air Force Base.

In addition, Pallas was past member of the Rome Area Chamber of Commerce, where he served as board member and at one point treasurer. He was also on the board of Rome United Way; was a member and past-president of Rome Kiwanis Club; member of the Tourist Attraction Committee headed by Mayor William Valentine, which later became the Historic Rome Development Authority (HRDA), the group which oversaw the building of Fort Stanwix National Monument and the Erie Canal Village; and member of Rome Jaycees, which established the first Key Club at RFA.

Former Mayor Carl J. Eilenberg had also appointed Pallas as city assessor, a position he held for 12 years. He was also a two-time trustee of Rome Historical Society, being presented with the Medal of 1777 award from the society in 2015.

And despite his years of service to the community, at 90, Pallas is still going strong, working part-time for Birnie Bus.

Shortly after Pallas’ retirement, Tim Birnie employed him to drive school bus for 12 years. He has been with the company 15 years now, but for the last three, Pallas has served as payroll clerk, where he is also responsible for some other office duties.

Daughter Carol Pallas said her father has always had an incredible work ethic, in addition to his devotion to family, faith and his community.

“He loves the people of Rome and enjoys connecting with them at work and elsewhere around town,” Carol said. “He has always been someone who gives back to the community and has instilled that in all of us kids — in a time when you don’t see people doing much anymore for the ‘good of the many.’ It is something he embodies and has shown in practice for 90-plus years.”