Samuel Alston Banks was born in Frostproof, Florida on May 16, 1928 to Mary Gatewood and Samuel A. Banks, Sr., a prominent citrus grower and packer. The young Banks attended Lakeland High School and Florida Southern College before going on to study at Duke University. While at Duke, he was a member of the Psi Chi fraternity, as well as Phi Eta Sigma and the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society. Banks graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in English literature in 1949. Following graduation, he went on to study at Emory University's Chandler School of Theology, from which he received a Master of Divinity degree in 1952. In 1951, Banks was ordained by the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. He served as a pastor in various churches in Georgia, Florida, and Illinois while he completed his postgraduate studies. Banks earned his doctorate in religion and psychology at the University of Chicago, completing the requirements in 1971. By that time, he had already been an assistant professor of pastoral counseling and theology at Drew University and had served the University of Florida in various teaching and administrative assignments, largely in the College of Medicine. Between the years of 1973 and 1975, Banks also held the position of the chief of that college's Division of Social Science and Humanities.
In 1975, Banks was elected as Dickinson College's twenty-fifth president. He also took on a position as an adjunct professor in behavioral science at the Pennsylvania State University Medical School in nearby Hershey, Pennsylvania. During his eleven-year administration, Dickinson significantly expanded its international education programs, inaugurated freshman seminars, and instituted more systematic evaluation policies for both the faculty and academic departments. His major building project was the Kline Life/Sports Learning Center, which opened in 1980 at a cost of five million dollars. Banks also oversaw the conversion of the old Alumni Gymnasium into the Weiss Center for the Arts, the extensive renovations of Denny Hall and Bosler Hall, and the onset of work on the James Center. He called together the first Board of Advisors, and he sought to raise the national reputation of the college with endeavors such as a national advisory council for pre-medical evaluations of students planning to study medicine.
Banks remained at Dickinson College until 1986, when he accepted a position as the president of the University of Richmond, also having been a finalist for the presidency of William and Mary. His tenure at Richmond ended suddenly on August 15, 1987 after only eight months, reportedly for health reasons. Banks had suffered a mild heart attack while at Dickinson and had now developed signs of complication with diabetes. He returned to Florida and accepted a position as a development officer and professor at Eckerd College in 1987. Banks held this position until his final retirement in 1995. Samuel Alston Banks died in St. Petersburg, Florida on September 12, 2000 from complications of a stroke.
An energetic, multi-faceted, and complicated man, Sam Banks drew varied responses from those who knew him well. Although his administration followed that of the beloved "students' president," Howard Rubendall, Banks was still able to gain high popularity with the student body. This was due largely to his involvement with college activities and his remarkable magic shows. Banks was twice married. His first wife was Judith Anne Farabee, with whom he had two children, Andy and Lisa. In July 1983, Banks married Dr. Joanne Trautman, a colleague from Hershey Medical School.
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