Former Steamboat Springs mayor Irlan Neas knows a thing or two about street construction. In the late 1960s, he pushed through Steamboat’s first penny sales tax so the city could afford to pave a few streets besides Lincoln Avenue. At the time, all of Ski Town USA’s streets — save the main drag — were dirt and gravel.
“It was pretty dirty down here in those days,” Irlan said. “If the snow was deep at spring break-up, it was hard to get around.
The first street to be paved was Oak, followed closely by Seventh, which offered cars a paved route to the high school.
“He’s been a pioneer of this town,” said Jim Simon, of Capital Funding Advisors. “He’s been a great mentor and a great friend. He’s one of the best bankers I’ve ever been associated with.”
Irlan, 81, has been a banker for 69 years, going back to his 12th year, when he cleaned Indianhead State Bank in tiny Chetek, Wis., for his father, the bank president. When he wasn’t sweeping the floors, he filled rolls of pennies, nickels and dimes.
Although he was a child of the Great Depression, Irlan had an idyllic childhood; his family’s home was on the banks of 10-mile-long Lake Chetek. The Neas’ fishing boat was at the dock with its trusty little Johnson outboard, and young Irlan knew where to go to catch the walleye pike and sunfish he loved to filet.
The summer he turned 15, he worked laying tracks for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, an experience that was enough to convince him that his future was in banking.
Irlan and Jean were married in 1948, and he left her behind temporarily to answer a listing for openings for bank tellers at Routt County National Bank in Steamboat Springs.
Longtime colleague Holly Rogers said Irlan confessed to her that he never intended to stay in the Yampa Valley.
But Jean soon followed her husband and Steamboat got its hooks in the Neas family.
“I skied every weekend and at night at Howelsen Hill,” Irlan said. “I like the small-town life.”
Irlan tried to retire 20 years ago after 40 years at Routt County National/Wells Fargo (he also put in a stint at United Bank), but discovered he wasn’t good at filling spare time.
He was lured back to work at Vectra Bank and today works at Capital Funding Advisors, where he is a senior vice president.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I like working with people.”
What keeps Irlan a vital part of his company after all of these years?
“It’s the relationships he’s had with all these customers he’s helped over the years that are so important,” Simon said.