Cheri Folk, a pioneer for women in Oregon banking who had an influential role in Astoria as a lender and volunteer, died at home Wednesday at 74 years old.
Folk, originally from Wendell, Idaho, first became a bank teller shortly after graduating from Seaside High School in 1963. After living in California, she returned to the North Coast as a single mother with two children and started a 36-year career with the Bank of Astoria in the early 1970s.
As a loan officer in 1978, Folk gave an 18-year-old Shawn Teevin his first loan to buy a logging truck with his brother and begin building what has become Teevin Brothers Land and Timber Co., a large regional natural resources and transportation company.
“She was like a second mom to me, and very strong,” Teevin said. “Strong and very honest. I learned a lot from her about business skills.”
Folk provided a $50,000 loan to the Astoria Riverfront Trolley Association to purchase the iconic Old 300. Willis Van Dusen, a former mayor of Astoria, also credited her with securing the financing to clean up the Astoria Plywood Mill, which has since become the Mill Pond neighborhood.
“Wherever good things happened in Astoria, you could find Cheri Folk,” Van Dusen said. “I will miss her dearly.”
Folk started as a loan officer, graduated to branch manager and in 1981 became president and CEO of the bank. She held the position until her retirement in 2009.
As a woman without a college degree, Folk said in a 2008 interview, “I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be the president and CEO of a community bank.”
Folk became the first woman elected chairwoman of the Oregon Bankers Association and also served on the boards for the Independent Community Banks of Oregon and American Bankers Association Government Relations Council in Washington, D.C. Former Gov. Barbara Roberts appointed Folk to the state Banking Board.
Washington-based Columbia Bank acquired Bank of Astoria in 2004. Heather Seppa replaced Folk after her retirement and served as president until 2013, when Bank of Astoria rebranded as Columbia Bank and she became senior vice president and regional manager.
“Cheri touched so many lives in so many ways,” Seppa said. “Not only was she a professional mentor to me, but she was like my second mother. I literally grew up at the bank, starting when I was 18.
“As a teller, I remember her being so approachable and encouraging. I’ll never forget when she walked in our downtown Astoria branch and called me a ‘super teller.’ She had a way of building your confidence and inspiring you as an employee.”
Seppa credited Folk with helping to move the Clatsop County Fairgrounds from Astoria to land off state Highway 202, and for helping to fund the construction of the Astoria Aquatic Center.
Folk’s volunteer efforts touched tens of local groups, including the Columbia River Maritime Museum, Lewis & Clark National Park Association, Columbia Memorial Hospital Foundation, Clatsop Community College Foundation, United Way of Clatsop County, Assistance League of the Columbia Pacific, Astoria Rotary Club, Astoria High School Scholarship, Inc., Oregon Community Foundation and the Clatsop County Historical Society.
Folk and Janet Niemi, the former executive director of the hospital’s foundation, founded Astoria Women Executives in 2001 as a networking support group for local female professionals.
“She had very high morals and ideals, but she was never judgmental,” Niemi said. “She was a guiding light to women and a wonderful role model for me.”
In 1990, Folk won the George Award, Astoria’s citizen-of-the-year honor presented by the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Folk, along with former Astoria Mayor Edith Henningsgaard Miller, received the inaugural Lady Liberty Award in 2012 for her exemplary local volunteerism and professional accomplishments. Folk served on the board of Liberty Restoration, Inc., for more than a decade and helped spearhead the restoration of the Liberty Theatre.
Steve Forrester, the president and CEO of EO Media Group, preceded Folk as president of Liberty Restoration, Inc. He described her as central to the theater’s resurgence.
“In promoting the cause of the theater’s restoration and in raising money, Cheri was undaunted and tireless,” Forrester said.