The Greatest Father from a Great Generation

My beloved father, William T. Dentzer, Jr. will turn 90 on August 29, 2019. His story is an everlasting inspiration to me and my siblings. He wrote this brief autobiographical sketch for his alma mater, Muskingum University in Ohio, last year. Read it here, and may we all be inspired by a life well lived in the midst of our current challenging times. — Susan Dentzer

by WILLIAM T. DENTZER, JR.

I was born in 1929 at the outset of the Great Depression in Rochester, Pa., a small town in about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. My loving parents were middle class Christians who believed in education and support of their church and community. Their own college educations had been cut short by straitened family finances, and I always knew they would send me to college.

At Rochester High School, I was an honor student, class president in my junior and senior years, co-editor of the school newspaper, and a football player. In the second semester of my senior year, I began to devote serious thought to which college I would attend. Though offered an academic scholarship to attend the University of Pittsburgh, I chose Muskingum largely because a cousin I admired had enrolled there. I had enjoyed a campus visit with him and his fellow athletes. I knew that I could play football for Muskingum, and I could also receive an academic scholarship.

I did not distinguish myself either grade-wise, or in terms of my involvement on campus, during my first semester at Muskingum in the fall of 1947. I roomed with my sophomore cousin and, without telling my parents, on weekends I hitchhiked to visit my high school sweetheart at Allegheny College in northwest Pennsylvania. I would leave on Friday afternoons and return on Monday mornings. Fortunately, when my trips became known to both parents, her father agreed that she could transfer to Muskingum at the end of that semester, so my long off-campus weekends were over. The Dean of Men at Muskingum, C.W. McCracken, also chastened me and advised me to get serious about both my grades and my campus experience.

I took his advice. Thereafter, I was elected class president in my sophomore and junior years, and student body president my senior year. I joined the debate team, and eventually dropped football in my junior year when spring practice conflicted with debate preparation. My debate partner and I went on to win an Ohio debate team championship. By that time, I had broken up with my former high school girlfriend and began dating a beautiful, bright sophomore and Congregational minister’s daughter, Celia Hill. I graduated in June 1951 cum laude majoring in political science with minors in economics and speech. The following year, when Celia graduated, we married.

Having become active in student government while in college, I was encouraged by the Dean of Men to attend the First Congress of the U.S. National Student Association (NSA) in 1948. I also was a delegate to NSA’s Third Congress in 1950, and attended its Fourth Congress in August 1951 at the University of Minnesota as a member of NSA’s National Executive Committee. Though I had planned to pursue a master’s degree at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs that fall, I was pressed by the outgoing NSA President to run as his successor and to pursue his goal of creating a free world alternative to the Communist front International Union of Students (IUS). I ran and was elected NSA’s Fifth President. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my NSA presidency would decisively influence my future.

Post-College Years

NSA, with its membership of more than 300 college and university student governments, was then the most representative student organization in America. It stood for responsible student engagement on campus, opposition to racial discrimination and McCarthyism, expressing student views on national issues affecting higher education, and advancing international efforts to support student freedom and welfare in other countries. The Association operated on a shoestring budget. I spent most of my year traveling to meet with student governments across the country, frequently sleeping on couches or dormitory floors along the way.

I also traveled abroad, and in 1953, represented NSA at the First International Student Conference in Scotland that formed the alternative to the Communist front IUS. Following my presidential year, Celia and I moved to the Netherlands, where I helped establish the Conference’s new Secretariat.

Just prior to my departure for that post in the Netherlands and after signing a secrecy agreement, I was informed by a CIA officer that the money I had raised from a foundation to support NSA’s international program had been covertly supplied by CIA. I was told also that the CIA was prepared to provide covert support for future international programs of NSA and the International Student Conference.

Years later, in 1967, this CIA support was exposed publicly. To reduce criticism of the Agency, CIA Director Richard Helms told The New York Times that its support was in response to my request as NSA President. While this was untrue, it was irrelevant to everyone but me. After the report of a special committee, this CIA support was terminated by President Lyndon B. Johnson. NSA, too, eventually went out of existence, as did its predecessor in the 1930s, the result of changing student concerns on America’s many campuses.

Following my year in the Netherlands, Celia and I returned to the United States, and I entered law school at Yale and later at the University of Pennsylvania. In the midst of law school I was drafted into the U. S. Army since CIA had ceased to arrange my deferment when I returned to school. After undergoing basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, I was seconded to CIA in Washington, D.C., to complete my two-year service obligation. I remained at CIA for three years thereafter. By that time, I had concluded that I did not want to practice law. Two of our children had been born, and I had a family to support.

After John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960, I asked one of his White House Special Assistants, a former NSA officer, to arrange my transfer from CIA to the task force that created the Agency for International Development (AID), America’s program of foreign assistance to underdeveloped nations. I soon became Special Assistant to the first head of AID, and thereafter Special Assistant to the U.S. Coordinator of the Alliance for Progress, the program initiated by President Kennedy to foster economic development in Latin America.

My work for the Alliance was interrupted by my appointment as Executive Secretary of a committee appointed by President Kennedy and chaired by retired General Lucius Clay. Clay may be best known as the Military Commander in Germany who in 1948 persuaded President Truman to mount the Berlin airlift after Russia blocked land routes to that city. President Kennedy hoped the conservative Clay Committee, which included former World Bank President Eugene Black and Robert Lovett, a former Deputy Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, would increase Congressional support for AID appropriations. After the committee reported, I followed up as coordinator of AID’s annual budget presentation to Congress.

In 1965, my family and I moved to Lima, Peru, where I served as Director of the AID Mission to that nation. After three years there and fearful that I would become a lame duck awaiting firing if Nixon was elected President, I engineered a return to Washington. There I was named Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, the multi-governmental organization based in Washington and created in 1948 to foster cooperation among member states in the Americas.

Given events in the United States in the late 1960s, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, my interests had begun to shift from the international to the domestic front. Now back in the U.S. I began to explore opportunities here. In 1969, Eugene Black, whom I knew from Clay committee days, named me Executive Director of a newly-formed New York State Council of Economic Advisers, which he chaired by appointment of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Celia and I moved our family of five children to Larchmont, NY, a suburb near New York City. When New York’s chief bank regulator was named head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1970, Governor Rockefeller appointed me to succeed him as the New York State Superintendent of Banks, a post I held for two years.

During that time, a group of New York City bank and stock exchange CEOs, the Banking and Securities Industry Committee (BASIC), began searching for solutions to the Wall Street “paperwork crisis.” Above-average daily trading volumes overwhelmed the processing of physical stock certificates by brokers and transfer agents, so that buyers could not get timely delivery of stock they had purchased. The New York Stock Exchange had to suspend trading some days when volume was too great. Congress began to question the reliability of the process of raising equity capital in the United States, and some lawmakers urged the government to step into the process.

When BASIC issued its report, it recommended changing from processing physical stock certificates to “book-entry” transfers of ownership via computerized entries in a trust company that could hold certificates “immobilized” in it vault unless owners desired them. A fledging unit of the New York Stock Exchange already existed that would be spun out of the Exchange, owned by users, and develop its own computer and other systems. Its Chairman and CEO also would be recruited. I was asked to take that post, and I accepted.

After a year of preparation in the Exchange’s depository and the passage of enabling legislation by various states in 1972, The Depository Trust Company (DTC) was born in May, 1973. An Act of Congress provided that it be regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve. I served as the depository’s chairman and CEO for 22 years, overseeing a dramatic period of expansion. When I retired in l994, the depository served 500 banks and broker-dealers across America and had annual expenses of $300 million, with 1.2 million securities issues eligible for its services. The value of book-entry deliveries that year was $34 trillion with securities valued at $7.7 trillion on deposit.

In its continued expansion after my retirement, DTC acquired other post-trade organizations and converted itself into a holding company, the Depository Trust and Clearing Company (DTCC). Like DTC, it is not a public company, but rather is owned by its users with a user board of directors. Also like DTC, it is little known outside Wall Street and the financial industry. More information on DTC and its creation of DTCC may be found in my 2008 book, “The Depository Trust Company.”

My 60-hour workweeks at DTC and attention to family and church left little time for other activity. I did serve on John Glenn’s national finance committee when he pursued the Democratic Party’s 1984 presidential nomination, and Governor Hugh Carey appointed me to chair a Temporary Commission on Judicial Compensation in New York State a few years later.

Aside from my professional life, my family life blossomed during our years in Larchmont. Our five children grew and prospered. Celia became president of any community organization she was willing to join. She also served as a church school leader and Clerk of Session at the Larchmont Avenue Presbyterian Church. I also served there as an elder, president of the board of trustees, endowment fund chair, and chair of a pastor search committee. In the wider community after my retirement, I chaired the board of the Larchmont Public Library and two ad hoc committees on local governmental problems appointed by our mayors.

Muskingum Board Service

Upon the invitation of President William Miller, I joined the Muskingum Board of Trustees in 1982. In 1988, when the chair of the Finance and Management Committee retired, I agreed to succeed him for one year since no one else was available. That one year stretched into 36 years, until the frailties of old age caused me to accept emeritus board status 2015. I had served through four Muskingum presidential administrations, including the lows of firing faculty under financial exigency and the highs of repricing tuition by lowering it and of shaping, financing, and erecting new buildings. During that time, both my wife and I received honorary degrees from Muskingum, and I was named one of the outstanding graduates of private colleges and universities in Ohio.

Why did I remain on the Board and chair the finance committee for so long, and why did my wife and I become keystone donors? Because my wife and I met at Muskingum, and believed we owed much to the school. Because we knew many administrators and faculty over the years and respected their devotion to the teaching and character formation of young people. Because, while I always thought Wall Street overpaid itself, I benefited from its halo effect. And because as written in the Gospel of Luke, “Everyone to whom much is given, much will be required.”

Susan Dentzer, Senior Policy Fellow at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, is a journalist, commentator, and respected health policy thought leader.

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