When Bill Nefsy bought tiny Miles City Bank in 1953, he had no idea the bank would grow into one of Montana’s largest community banks.
His vision was a simple one—he wanted to provide a way for his neighbors in Custer County—honest, hardworking farmers, ranchers, and business-owners—to obtain the financing they needed to operate and grow their businesses.
Like most who forged a life and livelihood in eastern Montana during the first half of the twentieth century, Bill Nefsy’s life was one of hardship, perseverance, and sacrifice.
Born to Daniel and Mary Nefsy in 1913, Bill suffered tragedy early. When he was just five years old, Bill’s mother Mary died in the Spanish Flu pandemic which struck nearly a quarter of the US population. Eight years later, at the age of 13, Bill would lose his father to Rocky Mountain Spotted-Fever.
Orphaned and alone, Bill became a ward of the State until distant uncles stepped forward, claimed him, and relocated him to their ranch near Newcastle in Northeast Wyoming.
Conditions on his uncles’ ranch were harsh. Bill, treated as little less than an unpaid hand, worked from sun-up to sun-down, seven days per week, and slept and ate with the ranch-hands in the bunk-house.
He endured beatings, survived a lightning strike, and was once dragged by a spooked horse while night herding alone.
He survived by keeping his head down, learning, and working hard.
In the 1930s, Nefsy packed up his meager belongings and moved to Moorcroft, Wyoming, leasing one of the gasoline service stations that were popping up along the new highway system.
When he wasn’t working at the service station, Nefsy with his young wife, Lorene, tended his small sheep herd which they purchased with savings kept in a cookie jar. Over time, he grew his sheep herd and then began adding cattle.
In the early 1940’s, Nefsy, Lorene, and their new baby, Virginia, purchased a small cattle ranch south of Miles City. Over the years, by working hard and saving his money, Bill was able to add to his land holdings by purchasing other ranching operations—many of which had fallen into disrepair during the Great Depression—and nursing them back to productivity.
Sometime in 1953, he traveled to Miles City looking to get an operating loan for his growing ranch. First, Bill approached First National Bank but was quickly and summarily turned away—apparently, not the sort of person they did business with.
He then turned to the only other bank in town—Miles City Bank. Again, he was turned away with the explanation “we don’t do ag loans.”
Shocked and frustrated at the bank’s rejection of him and his livelihood, Nefsy questioned, “Why in the town that bills itself as ‘the Cow Capital of the World’ couldn’t someone get an agriculture loan?”
He visited with other area Ag producers and local businesses; all felt the same about the local banks’ lack of activity and “exclusive” approach to banking. Within a month, Nefsy took a chance and seized the opportunity, purchasing the controlling interest in the Miles City Bank.
Nefsy’s vision was a banking organization that would serve the needs of the entire community, particularly farmers, ranchers and local businesses.
Nefsy never viewed himself as a banker, but as an entrepreneur and consumer of financial services. This unique outlook quickly set him and the bank apart from his competitors. He made it his mission to serve honest, hard-working Montanans of every walk of life, across Montana.
He knew his customers, understood their business needs and was willing to bank on their tenacity and determination. His philosophy continues to guide Stockman Bank to this day.