Charles E. Cheever Jr., known to most as Charlie, who led Broadway Bank and numerous major civic and philanthropic efforts in San Antonio, died Friday. He was 93.
Despite a lifetime of good health, Cheever suffered a stroke in February that left him alert but unable to walk. In his final days, he was surrounded by family at his home in the Army Residence Community.
On his birthday in May, Cheever told family members, “I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do and I’m really happy and at peace,” said his daughter, Joan Cheever.
A 1949 West Point graduate, Cheever was an Air Force fighter pilot instructor before earning a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1957.
The same year, he joined the bank that his father, Charles E. Cheever Sr., founded in 1941. In a 2018 interview for the San Antonio Public Library Foundation’s Voices of San Antonio project, Cheever said the day he started at the bank, the newspaper’s daily joke read, “Some people get to the top with a bank, and others do it with a pop.”
“That’s how I got to be president of Broadway Bank — solely because I had a ‘pop,’” he said.
Within four years of joining the bank, Cheever was named president and during his 44 years at the helm, Broadway Bank was the first San Antonio bank to establish a mortgage lending division and the first to extend its drive-thru hours beyond the traditional 9-to-4 in order to help working customers and service members.
In 1983, Broadway Bank became the city’s first to offer on-site brokerage services. In the late 1980s, Cheever guided the bank through a recession during which many banks and financial institutions failed, and in 1996, the bank acquired financial centers in Fredericksburg, Kerrville, Boerne, Castroville, Hondo, and Seguin.
Today, Broadway Bank is one of the largest privately owned financial institutions in Texas, with more than $5 billion in assets and over 600 employees in 33 locations across South Texas.
But Cheever said his greatest accomplishment was having the foresight in 1968 to move the bank from its location in Alamo Heights to the North Side, “when it was just a cow pasture out there,” he said. “It was certainly the single, smartest, most intelligent thing that I did as a banker, to get out where the future was anchored and not be hemmed in and known as a little suburban Alamo Heights bank.”
After retiring in 2005, Cheever was named chairman emeritus of Broadway Bank, and in 2012, the bank named its five-story administration building at 1177 Northeast Loop 410 after Cheever. He was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 2016.
Family members and those who knew and worked with the banker said Cheever’s career success was eclipsed only by his generosity and leadership in the community.
“He just believed that [fundraising] was a challenge but it was also a really important way to give back to the community,” Joan Cheever said. “But he also believed in … volunteering at nonprofits to see what they were about and so he and my mother spent a lot of time with a lot of nonprofits.”
Cheever served as the founding co-chairman with Tom Frost of the San Antonio Education Partnership and chaired the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in 1988. Tullos Wells, managing director of the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, was a member of the chamber government affairs committee during that time.
“Both Charlie and I were deeply involved in the redevelopment effort” after Kelly Air Force Base closed, Wells said, calling it a huge task. “The one thing that Charlie brought into every room was stature. When we visited with … political and military officials, Charlie already had trusted relationships. That was a real asset to us.”
Wells said that when he looks back on San Antonio in the 1980s and ‘90s, Cheever seemed to be involved in every issue challenging the city, from public television to economic development.
When an unfunded federal mandate required public television stations to transition from analog to digital by June 2009, Cheever led the charge to raise money for KLRN.
Wayne Alexander, former president of SBC Southwestern Bell, recalled the day Cheever approached him for that cause while he was waiting to cross a downtown intersection after lunch.
“He put his arm around me, commented what a warm day it was, and then he launched into a short dissertation of the KLRN digital transformation and the cost to do it and why SBC needed to pony up some cash. Right away,” Alexander said. “And he did it during through only two light changes, as I remember.
“He was so smooth and affable … I said, ‘Of course we will support it.’ And we did. If Charlie said it was important, it clearly was.”
Cheever also served as co-chairman of the 2003 San Fernando Cathedral Restoration Project and as a trustee of the United Way, the University of the Incarnate Word, and Southwest Research Institute. He spearheaded the capital campaign for the Challenger Learning Center at San Antonio College, where the Star Tower, the most visible feature at the Scobee Education Center, bears his name.
Mike Novak, executive director of the state Transportation Facilities Commission, said Cheever was relentless when it came to fundraising. “There’s just not a person he touched that didn’t just naturally love Charlie,” he said. “He’s just a wonderful individual, one of the finest people I’ve ever met.”
He was also a great father, said Joan, one of Cheever’s six children with his wife of 52 years, Sally, who died in 2004. “He would get off work at the bank and take off his jacket and roll up sleeves and we’d play. We were all on softball teams and so we played a neighborhood softball game every afternoon.”
Cheever strongly valued education and passed on his work ethic to his children. When other neighbors hired help for yard work, Cheever put his children to the task and encouraged them to find jobs as teenagers. “I think he got it from the discipline in the military — he just loved everything about the military,” Joan Cheever said.
Cheever is survived by his second wife, Nancy; sister Jane Cheever Powell; children Suzanne, Ceci, Jean, Joan, Charlie III, and Christopher, and their spouses; nine grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
Wayne Alexander is a member of the San Antonio Report’s board of directors.