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Bernard Trager, Respected Philanthropist, Community Leader, Businessman, Dies

Bernard Trager, philanthropist, community leader and founder of Republic Bancorp, died Friday, February 10, following a lengthy illness.

A preeminent businessman, Trager and his wife, Jean, bought a small bank in Shelbyville, KY, in 1977, and it became the cornerstone of the corporation that today is Republic Bancorp, Inc. Today, it has grown to be the largest Kentucky-owned financial institution, with more than 40 banking centers in Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee and Ohio.

Trager always attributed the success he enjoyed to the support of the community, and regularly gave back to the community by providing generous financial support to a wide variety of causes.

He is survived by his wife; a daughter, Shelley T. Kusman; a son, Steve (Amy); a brother, Alan; and five grandchildren, Michael, Andrew and Brad Kusman and Kevin and Emily Trager.

In continuation of his legacy, the family has asked that expressions of sympathy go to the Jewish Community Center or the Boys & Girls Club of Louisville.

 


[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Bernard Trager, philanthropist, community leader and founder of Republic Bancorp, died Friday, February 10, following a lengthy illness.

A preeminent businessman, Trager, along with his wife, Jean, bought a small bank in Shelbyville, KY, in 1977, and it became the cornerstone of the corporation that today is Republic Bancorp, Inc. Republic has grown to be the largest Kentucky-owned financial institution, with 43 banking centers in Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee and Ohio.

“For more than a quarter of a century, Bernard Trager has been an inspiration for me, and my friend,” said Alan Engel, retired executive director of the Jewish Community Federation. “He was a true leader who set high expectations, not only for himself, but for the entire community – both Jewish and general.
“He remained in Louisville to create opportunities and jobs,” Engel continued, “often noting that the community had been very good to him, so he was giving back to the community.

“When it came to the Jewish community, Bernard set the tone for the Federation Campaign on a yearly basis,” Engel added. “The Center was an important part of his early life, and he recognized what the Jewish community did for him. Not only did he participate, but he really encouraged others to participate, too.

“While Bernard will truly be missed,” he concluded, “his legacy to our community will always be with us.”
“Bernard had strong philanthropic values, which he instilled in his family,” said Stu Silberman, president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville. “The Trager family’s generosity has benefited the entire community, and the Jewish community in particular.

“Bernard really understood the power of the community coming together for a common purpose,” Silberman continued. “Our community is truly stronger thanks to Bernard’s leadership, and I look forward to continuing his legacy by working with the Trager family for the betterment of our community.”

Born in Louisville in 1928, Trager spent his teen years at the YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association, now the Jewish Community Center) and described it as the focus of his life.

Trager was in the National Guard, and served the country during the Korean War from 1950-52. Upon returning to Louisville, he went to work as a collector for Modern Loan Co. and quickly worked up to the manager’s position.

In 1955, S. Harry Linker approached him about starting a new business, Consumer Finance Company, and their partnership flourished. The Tragers also got married that year.

In 1957, Trager sold that company and began Union Trust, an industrial loan business, serving as its president and CEO until 1977. Upon Linker’s death, the investor’s heirs and Trager sold that company; however, Trager remained with the firm for three more years. At the time of the sale, he ensured that Union Trust’s employees were properly taken care of and were credited with their service toward their pensions.

Trager was an adopted alumnus of the University of Louisville. He was a former chair of the University’s Board of Overseers and then continued to serve as a member. He was also a member and former chairman of the Jefferson Club Board of Governors.

He served on the boards of the Health Enterprises Network, the Fund for the Arts, the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, Greater Louisville Inc./The Metro Chamber of Commerce, Boy Scouts of America, Louisville Community Foundation, and the Louisville/Jefferson County Redevelopment Authority.

Trager was named Professional Entrepreneur of the Year by Louisville’s Entrepreneur Society, an honorary member of the Golden Key National Honor Society, and a member of the Louisville Male High School Hall of Fame. He received the school’s Grover Sales Distinguished Alumni Award and was inducted into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame

In 1999, Bernard and Jean Trager received the Weisberg Brotherhood Award from NCCJ (the National Conference of Community and Justice); they also were named the 2003 Caritas Foundation Community Leaders of the Year. In 2004, they were honored with the University of Louisville Hickman-Camp Award, recognizing their support for the Athletic Department; and in 2006, they received the Jewish Community Center’s Blanche B. Ottenheimer Award in recognition of the difference they made in Louisville. In 2011, Trager was named Louisvillian of the Year by the Advertising Federation of Louisville.

Always leading by example, Trager was involved in Republic Bank’s We CARE Awards program, which recognizes businesses across Kentuckiana that encourage their employees to become involved in volunteer community service activities.

A detailed profile of Bernard Trager is also included in the 2005 Butler Books publication, Passing the Torch: Lessons Learned, Wisdom Shared.

Trager and his wife donated generously to community causes. For example, they gave generous gifts to U of L to build the Trager field hockey stadium at Cardinal Park and the Trager Center, an indoor football practice facility. The family’s support for U of L continued over the years, and the Trager Plaza on the Belknap Campus is a testament to their generosity.

Republic Bank has been the title sponsor of the Jewish Family and Career Services/Jewish Community Center Golf Tournament.

The family has also given sizable donations to and/or created endowments for the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Hospital, Frazier Rehabilitation Center, Baptist East for the Trager Pediatric Emergency Care Center, and The Temple for the Trager Pre-School Education Center, as well as many others.

The Tragers also enjoyed getting others involved in philanthropy. In 2004, they brought the movie, “Gloomy Sunday,” to the community as a successful fund-raiser for the Jewish Community Federation’s March of the Living program.

Bernard Trager is survived by his wife, Jean S. Trager; a daughter, Shelley Trager Kusman; a son, Steve (Amy); five grandchildren, Michael, Andrew and Brett Kusman and Kevin and Emily Trager; and a brother, Alan Trager (Roz) of Philadelphia, PA.

In continuation of his legacy, the family has asked that expressions of sympathy go to the Jewish Community Center or the Boys & Girls Club of Louisville.

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