Growing a bank
Bill Nielson retires from Dolores State Bank board
After nearly 87 years, Bill Nielson can tell you a few stories, just pull up a chair.
The story freshest on his mind these days is how a contractor, a doctor, a hardware store owner and a car dealer cut through the red tape of bureaucracy in 1959 to open the Dolores State Bank.
Nielson was one of those founding members and he recently stepped down as the chairman of the Dolores State Bank Board and Nielson looks back on those 54 years fondly.
"It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Bill," said Dolores State Bank President Ed Merritt.
Nielson, who also started Nielsons Construction, which is now Skanska Construction, is going to be missed.
"Bill is a story teller, someone needs to write a book, he has the most amazing stories of Dolores in the old days," Merritt said. "I will miss working with Bill, his foresight, integrity and business knowledge. He brought a lot to the table. He has been with the bank since day one and was an integral part of helping it grow."
Merritt's father, Dr. E. G. Merritt, was also a founding member of the bank. The group of men got together when JJ Harris and Co. bankers closed their bank in Dolores and moved to Cortez.
"What makes a strong town is a local bank and a local doctor and they wanted something that would stay in Dolores," Merritt said.
So the group of men; which also included Jack Kinkade, the car dealer, and Merton Taylor of Taylor's Hardware, went door to door in Dolores and sold stock for the Dolores State Bank. The first president of the bank was Sid Nix, who also had his hand in starting the bank.
"Getting a charter to start a new bank wasn't easy. The first application we made to the State Banking Commission was rejected," Nielson said. "Our second attempt was met with success, Dr. Merritt was the spokesperson for the group."
Getting back and forth to Denver in those days wasn't easy either.
"I furnished my airplane on two different occasions," Nielson said.
When the bank opened on Jan. 5, 1959, 286 people signed the guest list and the opening day deposits totaled around $136,000. At the end of the bank's first year, the deposits were in excess of $1.3 million and 450 individual checking accounts, Nielson said.
Today, the bank has two branches, one in Dolores and one in Cortez, a new building in Dolores, a five-star rating and ranks in the top 2 percent of banks in the U.S., according to the Weiss rating.
Nielson said he felt strongly about building the new building in Dolores because the old building was small, cramped and not equipped for current technology.
"Our customers and employees deserved a new building," he said.
Nielson was born in Blanding, Utah in 1926. He went to school in Monticello for a few years and eventually went to school in McPhee after his father purchased a sheep outfit along the Dolores River. Nielson was one of eight children, seven boys and one girl.
Nielson remembers hard work as a child, sleeping in the hay barn in the summer and with his work clothes on in the winter to stay warm. He remembers waking up at 4 a.m. with his brother Art so that they had enough time to milk 17 cows under the light of a kerosene lamp. It would take them just over four hours to do the milking and then it was time for school.
Nielson said he would have to ride horses to school and eventually got a buggy so the horses could pull the buggy and their feed.
"Then we would tie them up and feed them and they would be ready at the end of the school day to take us the six miles back home," Nielson said.
Nielson also attended school in Dolores and ended up graduating from Moab high school.
"I was the only guy on the football team that didn't get drafted," he said.
After high school, Nielson worked the "yellow circle" in the uranium mines.
One April 28, 1944, Nielson got a letter in the mail.
"It said, 'Congratulations you have been selected,'" he recalled.
Because Nielson already had four brothers fighting overseas in World War II, he never fought overseas, but has some stories to tell about his time at Camp Robinson, Arkansas.
It is also where he met his wife, Gean, who recently passed away.
When Nielson got back from the Army, he started a gravel pit, first hauling gravel by horse-drawn wagon.
Nielson started Nielsons Inc. in 1950, which originally shared an office wall with the Dolores State Bank.
Since retirement, Nielson has kept busy. He jokes that he has the "tired" part down.
"I couldn't ask for a better board of directors. I'm leaving it in good hands," he said.
But he will be missed.
"His business insight, along with his experience in the construction industry has served the bank well for 54 years," said Doug Aiken, executive vice president of Dolores State Bank.