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Harold Olsen standing outside of Lisco State Bank

Meet Harold, Who Laid the Foundation for Points West Future

Harold Olson went to work for Reuben Lisco at the Lisco State Bank in 1924 and eventually took over for Lisco in 1939 after Lisco’s passing. Olson was also left in charge of Reuben’s estate, after years of friendship and earning his trust.

Olson was born and raised in Genoa, Nebraska along with 8 other brothers and sisters. His mother passed away in 1908 when Harold was 12 years old, and right away he started farming as was necessary to help with family finances. The rest of Harold’s story will be in his own words.

“I put in the crop and kept farming on my own until 1915, and that fall decided to go to the University of Nebraska. I attended Univ. of Nebr for about two years or until May 1917. War was declared about that time and I registered for the draft.

Upon arrival at Camp Funston in March 1918, I was in a detention camp, and having had previous military training ROTC at U of N. I was appointed squad leader and shortly after promoted to Corporal. About October 15, 1918, I received my commission as the second Lieutenant after a three-month training at Camp Pike, near Little Rock, Arkansas. I was returned to Camp Funston and assigned to a division that was about ready to go overseas. Shortly after returning, though, I received word that my brother David had passed away and I was granted a leave to attend his funeral in Genoa. While at Genoa I made an application for an extension of my leave in order that I might go to North Dakota to look after his interests, but after not hearing from my request, returned to Camp Funston on November 10, 1918. When I got back to Funston I learned that my request for an extension of leave had actually been granted and I left that evening on a train for Kansas City, Mo. where I boarded another train for Omaha. Upon arriving in Omaha the whistles were blowing and the country was celebrating. The armistice had been signed and how they were celebrating.

When I got back to Funston after settling my brother’s estate in Bismarck, Army life became a bore for a while at least. Then I was appointed Battalion Supply officer and began to learn book work – debits and credits. The company I belonged to was discharged and I was left to dispose of all quarter-master and ordnance property. I was appointed as supply officer of another battalion but I went to Camp Headquarters and asked that I be relieved or discharged. In two days, I was on my way home by way of Omaha.

Once there, I intended to meet friends in Casper, Wyoming. I boarded the train out of Genoa, March 17, 1919, and got on at Columbus headed west for Maxwell. Arriving there that evening about dusk and walked into a set of bedsprings along the track. Got over town to Ruel P McFaddens’ meat shop where I called Tom Ogden who came in town shortly and took me out to the ranch. I attended farm sales continuously for a week with Tom who it seems bought all of the cattle at every sale – regardless of price – and resold later. Tom asked me how I would like to work in the bank there and I told him I would not work in the bank if they gave it to me Saturday night. Changed my mind and applied for a job at the Maxwell State Bank. Mr. Prior, the cashier, told me that he had plenty of help. I asked if he cared if I came in and did janitor work without pay to learn something about it. He said OK and on March 25, 1919, I went to the bank. At the end of the month, they gave me $5.00 which was $5.00 more than I expected. In May, Mr. Prior took me to Kearney to see Dan Morris, head of the City National. I was offered a job but turned it down. I came back and told Mr. Prior that I was going to Casper. Well, he raised my pay so I stayed on. By December of that year, I was getting $75.00 per month (my board and room was around $80.00). In January, I was asked if I would like to go to Wallace, NE – another Bielsticker bank. I accepted and was raised to $125.00. I stayed there about a year – then back to Maxwell for two years and then back to Wallace again. In January 1924 I learned of an opening at Lisco and arranged to go over. Left Wallace night of January 19, 1924, and drove to Oshkosh – a real cold night. Floyd Ferrell and Doctor Morris took me up to see Mr. Lisco on Sunday morning and made a deal to start working on February 1, 1924.

As a youngster at Genoe, I did a lot of lawn work in the summertime. The Greens lived across the street from us and they had a terraced lawn. I would water the yard there almost daily from 4-6 p.m. and for that, I received $0.10. I also had a cow route which meant taking cows to the pasture in the morning and bringing them back at night. Most everyone had a milk cow in those days. You received $0.50 a month per cow and I had five cows which meant $2.50 monthly. Mowing a yard paid from $0.25 to $0.40 depending on the size. I generally had four to five yards. I attended Sunday school regularly in Genoa – Stephen Battles was my teacher a lot of the time. I recall receiving at least one pin for attendance for one year without missing. For playtime which was early afternoons, I went down to the old Mill Dam (now on the Battles Land) where we had deep water and a diving board. The Fondas owned the mill and dam site and I generally went with them. I recall that John Munson once beat me out of$0.50 for taking his cow to the pasture and I never forgot that. I also recall losing $0.40 out of my pocket while swimming and while I had a good idea who took it I never did accuse him.

In the fall of 1917, while I was awaiting a call to go to the Army, four of us took a train for Gillette, Wyoming where I filed on a homestead in Campbell County. It was my understanding that if I did not come back from the service that the Section of land would belong to my estate. I did not go back to prove my claim. I sold my relinquishment to Frack Pickett for around $275.00 which helped me to liquidate some indebtedness I had incurred in my first year as a bank employee where my outgo exceeds my income. I enjoyed my five years at Maxwell and Wallace. I was a charter member of the Legion post at Maxwell and its first Commander. Also a charter member of the Legion Post at Wallace. While at Maxwell I conducted a large number of military funerals in 1919, of men who were shipped home from overseas. We generally had the funerals on Sunday and our firing squad as well as others who took part were well trained.

When I arrived in Lisco via my Model T Ford I got located in the Otto Johnson home for board and room. It was a good place to eat as well as a room. The date was about February 3, 1924. I found a real mess as far as the bank was concerned. A fellow by the name of George Sampson was Cashier and his knowledge of credit and banking was practically nil. The books and records were in terrible shape – I can not exaggerate. I put in long hours – fourteen to sixteen hours a day. An examiner came along and he could hardly find one good note in the bunch. We had no money – cash reserve. I told the examiner that I did not want to get credit for the mess and if he would not hold me responsible I would stay on – because of Mr. Lisco – and see if it could be worked out. I got out and visited borrowers and did everything I could to make collections. About that time a representative of the First National Bank of Omaga came along and they wanted their money (out Bills Payable). In June 1924 I was able to make some reduction but needed some money to operate. Mr. Weil came along and offered to take over my account. I went to Omaha – gave the First another chance and when they said No I paid off and gathered all the collateral they had. Mr. Lisco kept putting in assessments and we kept working on the notecase and as the years rolled on we got things worked out – it took about ten years. It would be hard to explain to the younger generation the head-aches of a bad note case and its consequences. If you go through one of these coupled with adverse economic conditions you can learn a lot about the banking business and keeping your bank in such a condition that you can meet the demands of depositors. They generally want their money when the going is rough. I learned to say no a long time ago and most of the time I did not forget. If you do not know how to say No to a loan which you feel is not OK, you better get out of the banking business. The men who knew how to say No were the ones who survived the thirties. There are those who think the thirties can not come again but I think something as bad could happen. Forgot to mention that my salary at the bank during those first ten years was $150 per month and raised toward the last to $175. Hardly any other income but somehow we got along. Had some good luck selling life insurance in 1927 and 1929 which helped matters.

Mr. Reuben Lisco passed away on January 16, 1935, and said he would take good care of me if I could bring the bank out of it. He was a wonderful man. I was the executor of his estate and my first experience in the handling of estates. Mr. Lisco was considered a wealthy man. His net estate was about $50,000. We liquidated some assets and made a number of trades before we could close. I received a meager executor fee. I handled the Lisco property after that for Mrs. Lisco until her death in October 1951 and administered her estate – liquidating all of her property and disbursing in cash as directed in her will. After my experience in the handling of Mr. Lisco’s estate I served as Executor and Administrator for a number of estates and which provided some earnings.”

Harold then took over Lisco State Bank and didn’t turn over the reins to his son, Tom Olson Sr., until he was 82. He remained chairman of the board until the end of his life, but his principal work in those days was overseeing operations of the Rush Creek Land and Livestock Company from an office in the bank. What was true at Olson’s arrival in Lisco is still true today – cattle production is still the most important economic force in the area. The development of mechanical irrigation systems has helped boost the production of corn and alfalfa used to feed and finish beef. The mechanics of banking had changed immensely in Harold’s 61 years of banking. “We’ve gone from pen and pencil book work to computers and the amount of loans and deposits have increased tremendously over the years,” he noted. “I once thought that $5,000 or $10,000 was a big loan but not anymore.”

When asked about why he got into banking over 61 years ago, Harold chuckled, “I didn’t know any better,” but quickly added, “I’ve never been sorry about it.”

Harold stuck to his belief that saying “No” was what saved the bank in the 1930s when son, Tom Sr. asked about expansion. “Our job is to serve our community,” Harold would tell Tom.

Besides Tom, Harold and his wife Helen had three other children, all of whom were connected to banking businesses. Son Bill was an owner of Nebraska State Bank in Oshkosh, daughter Mrs. Gene Eaton of Lincoln was the wife of the First National Bank of Lincoln’s board chairman, and another daughter is Mrs. Charles Ferguson whose husband had banks in Westminster and Estes Park, Colorado.

Tom and brother-in-law Charles Ferguson would eventually join with two others to form a holding group and purchase the second bank of Points West’s history in Dalton State Bank.