Banking Pioneer

Jose Leon Guerrero Untalan (1919 – 1990) was Co-Founder, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Executive Vice President of the Bank of Guam until his retirement in 1985. He was a pioneer in banking on Guam and instrumental in the development of banking in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In 1993, he was inducted as a laureate into the Guam Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame.

Untalan was born 20 November 1919, one of eight children of Rita Leon Guerrero and Pedro Cruz Untalan. He graduated from Seaton Schroeder High School in Hagåtña in 1936 and then took his first job as a teacher in the public schools. From teaching, Untalan went on to a position as an accounting supervisor with the US Naval Civil Service, where he remained until he became a bookkeeper with the US Navy’s pre-World War II Bank of Guam in 1941.

The bank shut its doors for the duration of World War II when the Japanese occupied Guam. When the Naval Government resumed its administration of Guam after the war, Untalan and his co-worker, Jose Perez, were called upon to prepare the re-opening of the Navy Bank of Guam, restoring partially destroyed documents. He assumed his pre-war position as a bookkeeper.

In 1950, when Guam’s civilian government took over the Naval administration of the island after the signing of the Organic Act of Guam, the Bank of America took over the Navy Bank of Guam. Untalan stayed on as assistant cashier and later as auditor. As his responsibility grew, he opened a Bank of America branch in Chuuk, Majuro, and in the village of Tamuning. In 1967, Untalan was promoted to Assistant Manager of Operations.

11 December 1972, was a turning point in Untalan’s life – it was when he left the Bank of America to become co-founder of Guam’s first locally owned bank, the Bank of Guam, with his life-long friend and associate, Jesus Sablan Leon Guerrero. The new Bank of Guam opened with Untalan, Leon Guerrero, and 13 staff members in the Santa Cruz area of Hagåtña. Untalan and Leon Guerrero worked hard for years to build up a reputable bank and eventually opened branches in Saipan, Rota, Tinian, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Majuro, Ebeye, Kwajalein, Palau, and San Francisco, California.

Besides being a banker, Untalan was known as a devoted family man and a faithful parishioner in his church parish. He was also a civic leader, elected to the 9th Guam Congress in 1949, representing the district of Hagåtña. He was a contributor to many civic and religious organizations, and served as president of both the Father Duenas Memorial School and Agana Cathedral School parent teacher associations, manager of the Pony and Babe Ruth Baseball Leagues, vice chairman of the Territorial Planning Commission, a member of the Government of Guam Retirement Board, president of the Maina Holy Name Society, chairman of the American Red Cross Guam Chapter and the Guam Tuberculosis and Health Association, chairman of the Guam Bankers Association, and vice chairman of the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority. Untalan was also given an honorary doctorate of law degree from the University of Guam.

Untalan was married to Rosario Flores Untalan, and together they had eight children: Theodore, Jose Jr., Frances, Mary, Paul, Richard, Matthew (Anthony), and Edward.

By Leo Babauta

For further reading

I Manfayi: Who’s Who in Chamorro History. VoI. 3. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Department of Chamorro Affairs, Division of Research, Publication, and Training, 2002.