A little white lie is what lies behind the story of Ernest Jean who – when he died in 1999 at the age of 101 – was one of the longest-tenured members of St. Mary’s Bank.
“My father was born in Manchester,” said Ernest’s son, Joseph Jean, who is also a lifelong member of La Caisse Populaire St. Marie. “He was born on Oct. 30, 1898 and he was born here because his father was a carpenter and a roofer and he was working on the steeple at Ste. Marie’s Church.”
When work on the steeple was completed, Ernest’s dad returned to his native Canada – the village of L’Isle Vert in Quebec, to be specific – where Ernest struggled to adjust to life on a farm.
“He liked living on the farm, but he didn’t like working on the farm,” Joseph laughed, “so in 1912, he enlisted in the Canadian Army. He was a bugler. He played the cornet and he was really good, but somehow, they found out he was only 14. He lied about his age when he joined so they kicked him out.”
So Ernest returned to the city of his birth.
“He was one of 11 kids in the family,” Joe explained. “There were three boys and eight girls, and when the family had gone back to Canada, some of his older sisters stayed here in Manchester, so my father had family here. That’s why he came back to Manchester.”
Like so many other “voyageurs” who came to Manchester from the French-speaking provinces, Ernest – even at the tender age of 15 – quickly found work with the Amoskeag Manufacturing Corporation.
“He was a textile mechanic, and the first day he got paid, he opened an account with St. Mary’s Bank,” his son said. “My father went to St. Mary's for two reasons. One is because it was the sanction of the priest – my father was very Catholic – and the other reason is because everyone at St. Mary's spoke French.
“My father understood English,” Joe added, “but he refused to speak it. “Every one of the people there spoke French and he was comfortable with that. He used to talk about how he would bring his money there when there was a little strong box in the bedroom where they kept the money in the house on the corner of Amory Street and Notre Dame Avenue.
“Eventually, he got married in 1924 to my mother, whose maiden name was Alexina Michaud. My mother also had an account at St. Mary’s Bank, and to save money, they stayed with my mother’s father, who had a house at 291 Dubuque Street, and it’s still in the family.
“In 1930, my parents got a mortgage from St. Mary’s Bank and they bought a multi-family at 601 Montgomery Street,” Joe said, “and in 1930, when they got the mortgage loan there, it wasn’t one of those no-down-payment loans like today. The down payment was about 70 percent, so the bank taught you how to save. The house cost $8,000, and they financed maybe $1,700. Back then, you earned the money before you bought the house.”
It would be Ernest Jean’s home for the rest of his life.
For 86 years, St. Mary’s Bank was an integral part of his life.
Well, unless Ernest was lying about his age again.