REINBECK — The kids typically lined up outside the Tscherter house on Halloween night. The guy who lived there was handing out cool Hot Wheels miniature race cars for treats.
That was Steve Tscherter. He had a large Hot Wheels collection. He also jump started the local bank and many farmers during the agricultural crisis of the 1980s.
He crossed the finish line of life Sunday. He died at age 71 of a sudden illness. Friends and colleagues say as a banker and a community leader, Tscherter took the checkered flag.
He began his career in 1968 as a federal bank examiner and was with Lincoln Savings Bank in Reinbeck from 1979 until his retirement in 2015, most of that time as president. He continued on as board chairman until January of this year.
During his early years at LSB, “the bank had its challenges,” said Erik Skovgard, who succeeded Tscherter as president. “He had to have some tough conversations with farmers to get their operations turned around, getting them to a position where they could be successful and pay back their loans. Not the first thing you want to do when you come to a community. But that’s what he had to do when he came to Reinbeck.”
Later, after conditions improved in the ’90s, Lincoln was at a position where it could either acquire other banks and expand or be bought out itself.
“We acquired a couple of banks in Aplington and Allison and after that the rest was history,” Skovgard said. “We probably had $40 million to $50 million in assets at that point.” Lincoln expanded into the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area and, about 5 1/2 years ago, into the Des Moines-Ankeny-Adel area. Today the bank has $1.1 billion in assets with 19 locations and 285 employees, compared with about 20 when Tscherter started there.
Also in the early 1990s, Tscherter instituted an employee stock ownership program, or ESOP.
“He was a great banker,” Lincoln board chairman Milt Dakovich said of Tscherter. “He was very interested in personal service, very interested in giving back to the community, very interested in having himself and others in the bank serving on community organizations. He was quite involved with the (Greater Cedar Valley) Alliance and Chamber. He was involved in Leader in Me, Dollars for Scholars and very much encouraged those who worked at the bank to be similarly involved. We’ll miss him at the bank and we’ll miss him as a friend.”
Kris Jones of Waterloo, Tscherter’s son-in-law, said, “He was a good person. He helped me build my house. He was very detail oriented. He loved to sing. He enjoyed his grandkids and he enjoyed sports, for sure.
“He’d pick up my sons and they’d go buy cases of Hot Wheels,” Jones said. Tscherter kept the collector’s items for himself and let the grandkids play with the others.
“He was a true professional, but I guess he helped me ‘up’ my game in life,” Jones said. He also noted his father-in-law would attend state athletic tournaments in Des Moines to cheer on his workers’ children. “He was very good at supporting his employees’ families.”
“He helped me move into my first house,” Skovgard said. “I had just moved out of an apartment, I had just graduated from the (University of Northern Iowa). He helped me move furniture. He was disappointed I didn’t have more to move.
“He was a good leader,” Skovgard said. “He challenged you ... but he had a tremendous amount of grace” and would grant “second, third and fourth chances” to help people succeed.
Tscherter would have marked his 50th anniversary in banking in October. Knowing he was critically ill, the Iowa Bankers Association and his friends at Lincoln moved up that celebration, presenting him his 50-year award Feb. 1.
“That was a very touching ceremony. I think it meant a lot for Steve,” Iowa Bankers Association president John Sorensen said. “Steve was clearly a leader in our industry” and a mentor. “He was just a great person and very kind, very interested in others’ lives in addition to being a good, solid banker.”