John Clevenger, the president and CEO of Commerce Bank in Wichita and a member of one of the most prominent banking families in Kansas, died Saturday morning.
He was 49.
“John was one of our key teammates and the consummate professional banker,” Commerce Bancshares said in a statement Sunday night. “John has provided us with smart and focused leadership for over twenty years in the Wichita market and, more recently, throughout Kansas. John was a passionate supporter of the Wichita community and his passing is a great loss for all of us.”
Clevenger was 29 when he was named president of Commerce in 1997. Commerce was the third-largest bank in Wichita at the time.
Clevenger said he took a low-key approach when he was first hired at the bank, which helped to gain the confidence of customers and colleagues. He knew he was young and had a lot to learn.
A fifth-generation banker, Clevenger initially had no interest in joining the family business. He majored in English at Princeton, where he played football for four years.
He tried to go into real estate and “wrote a zillion letters” after graduating from Princeton, he said in a 1997 Wichita Eagle story. “It was really apparent that that job wasn’t out there.”
He embarked on a different career path, landing a job as a commercial lender for Commerce Bancshares in St. Louis. Three years later, he returned to school and earned a master’s in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern. While there, he also played rugby.
Upon graduating, he took a job as a banking industry consultant in Chicago. The hours were grueling. At one point, Clevenger worked for 80 consecutive days.
David Kemper, who had hired Clevenger at Commerce Bancshares, called in 1996 and offered him a job with Commerce in Wichita.
“We were thinking about how we were trying to build that bank and the presence in Wichita,” Kemper said in 1997. “That’s when I thought about John — somebody to inject into the bank as a very smart, aggressive and personable guy.”
The Clevenger name has deep roots in Kansas banking.
John Clevenger’s grandfather, Charles, was president of Fourth Financial Bank in Wichita before moving to Topeka, where he ran the First National Bank. Thomas Clevenger, Charles’ son and John’s father, later took over management of First National Bank.
His father never encouraged him to go into banking, John Clevenger said in 1997. “Not at all,” he said.
Clevenger and his wife, Kristen, have three children.