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Published: Tuesday, 2/6/2007

Opposite opinions about demise of Sky

A northwest Ohio banking empire is soon to disappear as an independent entity, and two longtime area bankers who helped build that empire will be watching the development with entirely different emotions.

As Sky Financial Group Inc. stockholders prepare for this spring's special meeting to vote on merging the Bowling Green bank holding company into Huntington Bancshares Inc., of Columbus, the bankers reflect on their combined 75 years with Sky and its predecessors.

Ashel Bryan and Ed Reiter disagree on many aspects of the latest merger, but they agree on one thing: It's too bad that a lot of banking jobs in this region are likely to disappear.

"I am completely out of the bank," said Mr. Bryan, 85, longtime chief executive officer of Mid Am Inc., a Sky predecessor. "I have no stock, no [financial] interest in the bank."

Mr. Bryan worries that the

Mr. Bryan worries that the closing of as many as 70 of Huntington's 750 offices after the merger will mean those communities will lose a competitive choice.

He thinks the merger deal was better for top executives such as Marty Adams - chairman and CEO of Sky - than for shareholders.

And he is irritated that Sky is merging with a regional bank instead of a large national bank, like Bank of America, that might have created less overlap of branches.

But Mr. Reiter, 67, former CEO of Mid Am and later senior chairman of Sky, owns many thousand Sky shares, and he sees it differently.

"I'm not bruised at all," said Mr. Reiter. "Shareholders should be happy." The merger will create greater efficiency, he said.

As for whether Huntington is the best merger partner, "you can't second guess."

He said he believes Sky "has a strong board, and made the best decision."

And he said he has no quarrel with Mr. Adams or Huntington's top executives.

The bank that became Sky was good for both Mr. Bryan and Mr. Reiter.

Mr. Bryan, a pilot in the Army Air Force in World War II, joined what was then Bowling Green Banking Co. in 1952 as assistant cashier a year after it opened with just $300,000 in capital.

Later, when it was First National Bank of Bowling Green, he engineered the first big merger, with Toledo's Progress National Bank, to create Mid-American National Bank & Trust Co.

He is proud of what the bank became. "A number of people retired from Mid Am as millionaires," he said. He, of course, was one of them.

Mr. Reiter, who grew up in East Toledo, the son of a factory worker, joined the bank in 1966 as a part-time teller while teaching at Penta County Vocational Schools.

To pay for his education at Bowling Green State University, he worked three part-time jobs.

At Mid Am, he steered the bank through a couple of dozen acquisitions, pushing it into the multibillion-dollar status before its 1998 merger with Citizens Bancshares Inc., of Salineville, Ohio, to form Sky.

It now has assets of nearly $18 billion. The acquirer, Huntington, has assets of about $35 billion.

Mr. Reiter said he knows that many of the 500 Sky employees in metro Toledo will lose their jobs as Huntington consolidates Sky's 4,500 workers with its own 8,500 in six states.

"I don't like the loss of people, and I don't dismiss that," he said. "I'm trying to help anybody who is displaced."



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