First & foremost, Tom Olson Sr. is a son of Lisco, Nebraska. Born the youngest son of Harold & Helen Olson, Tom was raised in the small panhandle town. At just seven years old, he earned his first job working as a ranch hand for Rush Creek Land and Livestock Co. After attending college at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and serving in the Air Force, he returned home.
Tom was no stranger to hard work as a child. His father had worked as a janitor at a bank for $5 per month in hopes to earn a career as a banker, and his mother served on Lisco State Bank’s board until her 100th birthday. His hobbies included hunting, ranching, baseball, yardwork, and being in the company of his friends, a few of which stayed with him throughout his entire career.
In 1962, Tom landed back in Lisco to operate Lisco State Bank, the same bank his father, Harold, took over from Reuben Lisco three decades back. This bank would one day become known as Points West Community Bank.
“People are really wonderful in this community,” Tom fawned in an IBAA article. “They take so much pride. It’s easy to adjust to a small community when you have a lot of great people working for you.”
While the bank was under Harold’s leadership, it remained solely focused on the town of Lisco. Having weathered the Great Depression, Harold would often comment that “saying ‘no’ in the ‘30s saved our bank.”
Tom took a different approach. Both Tom & Harold believed a banker should be committed to their community, and Harold took that to mean his attention should remain undivided. In contrast, Tom felt he could expand his commitment to service beyond Lisco and provide hometown-style banking to the neighbors down the road.
“Dad wasn’t very supportive of that, but when I think about how much fun it’s been…” Tom joked and trailed off.
Alongside his brother-in-law, Charlie Ferguson, and Herb Fecht & Rich Hennig, two of Lisco State Bank’s customers, Tom purchased a bank in Dalton, Nebr. in 1966. Later on down the line, Tom & Charlie partnered with additional family members, Gene Eaton (their brother-in-law) and Bill Olson (Tom’s older brother & then-owner of Nebraska State Bank), to obtain a bank in Sidney, Nebr. The partners merged the two charters and later made acquisitions in other communities in Southeastern Wyoming and the Nebraska Panhandle. Separately, Gene held majority interest in banks in Estes Park, Colo. and Fullerton, Nebr. At the time, Tom played a smaller role, but Gene later sold him his ownership in these banks. In 2018, Tom’s son, Tom Jr., merged the Fullerton location into Points West, bringing the bank’s footprint closer to what it is today.
“It’s really kind of a family affair,” Tom Sr. said.
Tom has always credited the work ethic his father instilled in him for his success in developing a good working relationship with people, boards, & organizations he served.
“You have to remember the depositors are the most important people of all,” Olson boasted. “I take a lot of pride in protecting them and at the same time [lending] those funds out to the communities to help their economies.”
As with most community banks, a large majority of Olson’s customers were involved in agriculture. Olson owned some land himself.
“I don’t think there’s any experience like having grass of your own and cows of your own.” He explained, “That’s one of the reasons I got involved in real estate – to get a better feel of what our farm and ranch customers need and what they’re going through.”
As Points West planted roots in new communities, Tom stayed true to his Lisco roots serving on the boards of two local businesses: Coldwater Fish Farms and Rush Creek, the ranch where he worked as a kid. While the fish farm is no longer operating, the ranch is still raising cattle. At the time, the companies employed about 80 people and contributed significantly to the local economy. Like his father said, cattle production was – and still is – the most important economic force in the area.
Lloyd Harding, vice president and manager of Coldwater at the time, noted that Tom’s commitment to the business sometimes added pressure to making it all work. As a born & bred banker, he always made sure they kept an eye on the bottom line. Some of the same folks employed by Rush Creek and Coldwater were also customers at the bank.
Tom’s recognition in the banking community grew, and he eventually served on several boards both local & wider in scope. Among his notable responsibilities were: Chairman, Nebraska Bankers Association; President, Independent Bankers of America Association; Director, Federal Agriculture National Mortgage Association; Director, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Omaha Branch; Director, Federal Home Loan Bank Topeka; and many boards, committees, and task forces. Closer to home, he served as a board member of the Garden County Hospital and Nursing Home.
“If you make good solid contributions to any board you are on, pretty soon they totally understand your background,” he said. “When you do a good job, they realize business is business, no matter how small or how large.”
When attending Federal Reserve Bank Board of Director meetings, Tom would always carry with him a photo of Western Nebraska’s farmland. The Board respected Tom’s input and Tom made damn sure that the Panhandle was just as important to them as the rest of the state. A standing joke at the meetings was Tom’s report of the unemployment rate in Lisco, which was, of course, very low in a town with a population of just over 100 at the time.
“He keeps us straight with what’s going on in that respect,” said Brad Cloverdike of the Federal Reserve Bank office in Omaha. “Tom has done a very good job keeping us aware of the economy in that area and how things are progressing. He’s been a voice for the people in that part of the state and for the economy of that area.”
“You could not have found someone to represent and express the interests of mid-America and small-town America better than someone like Tom Olson,” echoed Hod Kosman of Platte Valley Bank in Scottsbluff.
“I’m still that small-town guy from Lisco,” Tom said. “I’ve been very lucky to have people to get the banks together and keep them together. I’ve leaned a lot on my family. They’ve given me a lot of support. I don’t think of myself as being big at all. It’s neat being in a lot of communities. As a result, I’ve got a lot of friends in those communities.”
Source: IBAA Magazine, Date & Author Unknown