Steamboat Springs Irlan W. Neas, a lifetime Steamboat Springs banker who helped three generations of Steamboat families buy automobiles, and made it easy for cattle ranchers to add to their herds, died Thursday in Steamboat. He was 82.
Although he worked in the banking industry for 63 years, and touched many lives in that role, Neas’ place in Steamboat history likely was earned during his six-year tenure in the late 1960s as the mayor of Steamboat. Lincoln Avenue was the only paved street in the city in those years, and Neas was determined to do something about it.
“It was pretty dirty down here in those days,” Neas told the Steamboat Pilot & Today in spring.
Under his leadership, the city established its first one-cent sales tax, and soon Oak Street was paved, followed closely by Seventh Street. The latter provided motorists for the first time with a paved route to the old high school.
Former colleague Geneva Taylor described Neas as the epitome of a personal banker. They worked together at the Routt County National Bank (now Wells Fargo), where he started April 1, 1948, and she came to work in the 1960s.
“When a customer came in and paid off a new car loan, it was as exciting for Irlan as it was for them,” Taylor recalled. “He was very efficient. In those days, if a rancher came in to get a loan to buy more cattle, they’d talk it over, and usually their information was on file. Irlan had that infectious laugh, and while a secretary was typing up the loan, you could hear him laughing and talking with the customer. They’d sign that note, and off they’d go.
“In all those years I can only remember maybe two loans that kind of went sour. We didn’t have bad loans.”
Born Oct. 1, 1928, in New Salem, N.D., Neas started his banking career from the ground up as a 12-year-old. He cleaned Indianhead State Bank in tiny Chetek, Wis., where his father was the bank president.
After idyllic summers boating and fishing on Lake Chetek from his family’s private dock, it was as a 15-year-old that young Irlan took a job that helped him decide on his career path.
After spending a summer laying tracks for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, he decided his future was in banking. Neas completed a course in accounting at the Minneapolis School of Business and subsequently graduated from the Colorado and Wisconsin schools of banking.
Irlan and his high school sweetheart, Jean, were married in 1947, and in 1948, he left her behind temporarily to answer an ad for bank tellers at Routt County National in Steamboat.
Former colleague Holly Rogers said Neas once confessed to her that he never intended to remain here. But Jean soon followed her husband, and together they shared a passion for the outdoors and skiing.
“I skied every weekend and night at Howelsen Hill,” he told the newspaper last year. “I like the small-town life.”
Neas still was working in the financial industry up until his death, after two retirements that just didn’t take hold.
After rising to the level of executive vice president at Routt County National, he retired in April 1988.
“Irlan was a mentor to me,” longtime colleague Pat McClelland said. “He used to be at work by 7 a.m. and would work until 6:30 or 7 p.m. He was very dedicated to his customers.”
Despite his long work hours, Taylor said Neas always remained cheerful and had the right temperament to handle the pressures of the banking industry.
“He used to walk home to Fourth Street every day for lunch” in the early years, Taylor said. “That was his exercise.”
After a brief first retirement, Neas put in a stint at United Bank and then went to work for Vectra Bank, where he remained until 2002. He retired again and returned to work at Capital Funding Advisors, where he was the senior vice president in 2010.
His role as a bank executive was just the beginning of his service to Steamboat Springs.
As mayor and a member of Steamboat Springs City Council, Neas helped the town complete a new wastewater treatment plant, build a reservoir and install major waterlines, all without incurring significant debt for the city.
During his professional career, he served as president of the Chamber of Commerce as well as president of the Kiwanis Club.
Neas served on the high school advisory board for three years and helped launch the Head Start program in Routt County. He still found time to serve on the board of directors of Routt Memorial Hospital and was an officer for the Fish Creek Water & Sanitation district for 25 years. At one time, he was on the board of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
At the time of his death, Neas remained a member of the Kiwanis Club and was the secretary-treasurer of the Steamboat Golf Club.
Throughout his decades of public service and support of families and businesses in his professional life, Neas played a significant role in nourishing the good life in Steamboat Springs.
“He was a very good businessman and a good friend,” McClelland said.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com