Two words that might light up a few readers who grew up in the trough of the ’70s: Buddy Banco. You just now shrugged or began weeping. “Never heard of him.” Or: “Buddy! Yes! How his warm fur consoled me through the years of stagflation.”
Back up: A friend sent a picture of a 6-foot-tall bear next to kids in Halloween costumes and a nice young lady whose shirt said: Northwestern Bank Energy Savers. That put the shot in the late 1970s, back when we were sure we were going to run out of energy by 1985 and society would collapse, but if we used a lower-watt bulb in the fridge we might last until 1986. Then the new Ice Age would send glaciers to push Minneapolis into Iowa. That was the general idea, anyway.
The bear seemed unconcerned. Blank black eyes, red cloth tongue hanging slack like a slab of steak, one ear bitten off. “Remember him?” My friend texted.
Nope. Wasn’t into ursus plushus in college. But I poked around in the old newspapers. Buddy Banco was the purportedly adorable mascot of the Northwestern Bank, which had decided a corporate name one vowel removed from “bunco” was a good idea.
The ads were odd: Buddy Banco, said one ad in the Fergus Falls paper, was “guaranteed to be non-toxic!” It’s like saying “Morty Mortgage, the adorable stuffed sloth, now contains absolutely no spider eggs!” “Guaranteed to be fire-resistant” was another kid-pleasing attribute, which meant the thing wouldn’t go fwoomph if Dad brushed it with his Winston.
Buddy Banco was one of many bear mascots for banks in the era. Perhaps parents were supposed to think of hibernation: The money went to sleep and woke up fatter, thanks to the miracle of compound interest.
Nowadays, the banks have no interest in your money — literally. Try to explain compound interest to young people today, and they’ll say, “What? You gave the bank money, and then they added their own money? C’mon, dude. They gave you money?”
Yes. And a bear. My friend added: “Today I saw an older mentally challenged woman at the zoo in a wheelchair, clutching several stuffed animals. One of the animals was a Buddy Banco. Her husband said her father gave it to her over 40 years ago. I had one myself.”
As did many of you, I suspect — and if Banco were still around, you’d probably still bank there, because you loved your Buddy. (And because a small microchip whispered “member FDIC” when it detected you had fallen asleep.)
You’d never see a big bank aim for the tot demographic today. Wouldn’t it be nice if they brought back Buddy Banco? And interest? OK, I’ll be happy with just interest.