updated 9/1/2006 12:41:48 PM ET 2006-09-01T16:41:48

As a young man, Ben Bernanke spent summers working construction and waiting tables. He says those were what inspired him to get into economics.

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Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, fondly recounted his days growing up in Dillon, South Carolina, during a visit to his hometown on Friday. A copy of his remarks were made available in Washington.

It was a long journey from his small town to become what is often considered the second-most powerful person in Washington after the president. Bernanke took over the Fed in February, succeeding longtime chairman Alan Greenspan.

Bernanke was born in Augusta, Georgia, but moved to Dillon as a small child and lived there for 17 years before going off to college. Dillon is a town of fewer than 6,500 just south of the North Carolina border.

"After I graduated from high school, I spent the summer as a construction worker helping to build Dillon's St. Eugene Hospital," Bernanke said. "During the summers of my college years, I waited tables six days a week at the South of the Border," a faux Mexican tourist site.

In those jobs, he learned the value of hard work, he recalled.

"I remember that, on the first day I came home from the construction site that summer, I was too tired to eat, and I fell asleep in my chair," he said.

Bernanke, 52, pointed to those experiences as a reason why he decided to become an economist, which he called the study of people in the ordinary business of life.

The Fed chief's roots in Dillon run deep.

His grandparents, Jonas and Lina Bernanke, moved to Dillon in the 1940s. His grandfather bought a local drug store, which Ben Bernanke's father and uncle would take over and run for many years. His mother gave up a job teaching elementary school when he was born and often helped out at the drug store.

Bernanke also reminisced about playing saxophone in the high school marching band.

"As a teenager, like many other teenagers, I itched to get away from the small town in which I was raised to see the bright lights of the big city," he said.

Bernanke got his wish. He left Dillon to attend Harvard University in Massachusetts, where he studied economics. He earned his doctorate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Most of his professional life was spent in academia as an economics professor. Bernanke eventually moved to Washington to become a member of the Federal Reserve, then moved on to become President George W. Bush's chief economist. After that, he was named Fed chairman.

In his remarks, Bernanke did not discuss the economy or the future course of interest rates.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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