Editor's note: "Community Champions" is a new weekly feature in which area residents who are advocates for the community are profiled. To recommend someone for consideration, send an email with the subject line 'Community Champions' to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include contact information about the person and his/her background. Read previously published stories on columbustelegram.com.
On a late April 1996 morning, several members of the noon Kiwanis Club of Columbus were making their way down the ditch along U.S. Highway 30, west of town, picking up trash as part of their community service work.
Admittedly, it wasn’t anyone’s favorite particular task. But leave it to Columbus native Hollie Olk to find a way to make picking up garbage along the road fun and a way for those there to bond.
“It was a job that most members didn’t look forward to, but she always showed up and she always brought coffee and doughnuts for us. Nobody else did that,” longtime friend and Kiwanis member Dick Breuer recalled. “I always thought, ‘that’s an easy way to a guy’s heart.’”
Olk will tell those who ask that bringing the doughnuts and coffee was simply a reward for those who were willing to do an unglamorous job: “It’s a sugar blast and caffeine rush.”
And those two things definitely made the cleanup missions more enjoyable, especially considering the trash collection was only half the battle.
“When I got home I was completely covered with ticks under my clothes,” Olk recalled of one particular cleanup session. “Boy, that was a bad moment I won’t forget. Ick!”
Of course, Olk bringing doughnuts to various functions is hardly what defines her. She has served on dozens of area boards, helped numerous nonprofits and played a role in bringing many ideas to fruition over the years all in the name of helping Columbus grow. In fact, she’s done all that while finding much success in her banking career and raising her family.
Columbus is where her parents lived; it’s where her mother-in-law, her brother and her two nieces live. It’s where she and her husband grew up, raised their family and live, where her sons and granddaughter live.
“So everything good that happens in the community is good for my family to enjoy and something that this community can enjoy,” Olk said. “So that’s why I like to be involved, that’s why I feel it that way.”
Columbus is home.
FINDING HER WAY
Olk grew up in a house in town that has since been turned into a parking lot for the middle school with her older brother and two older sisters. Columbus was much like it is today, she said, safe. A young Olk would frequently ride her bicycle all through town without fear.
“I did a lot of playing outside with the neighbors, riding my bike where I wanted to because you didn’t have to worry,” Olk said. “One time I was at Pawnee Park and I stayed too late. I got in a little trouble.”
She graduated from Columbus High School in 1978, and while seeking employment came across a job at Commerce Savings, not thinking much of it at the time.
“I got hired to do the bookkeeping for this industrial loan and investment company,” she said. “But it was just the bank president and me in the office, so you kind of had to do everything: (Certificate of Deposits), putting loans on, etc.”
During that time Olk would sort the mail that came into the office, and rather than throw away what most would probably consider “junk,” she would put it to the side for later and read all about secondary market loans and other banking-related topics that had been sent to them.
Olk’s ambition and drive resonated with the company, as she worked her way up the ranks while leading the business in the area of secondary marketing financing. By the early 1990s, she was the bank’s vice president, manager, secrecy officer and compliance officer, reporting directly to the Board of Directors.
In 1992, she joined First National Bank Columbus to initiate its secondary market and government residential financing. More than a decade later, in 2006, she joined Pinnacle Bank in Columbus and developed its Columbus Mortgage Center that covers greater Nebraska and Kansas mortgage financing. She is also the vice president of real estate lending. She has been there ever since.
Olk said she loves what she does at Pinnacle Bank, stressing that being able to work with residents and getting to know them while helping them conquer their financial goals is quite rewarding.
“It’s wonderful to get to visit with people and help them do whatever it is they want to do next, like buying a house,” Olk said. “It’s a wonderful experience to visit with someone, listen to what they want and show them a good path to get them there.”
GETTING INTO COUNTY GOVERNMENT
Olk never planned to run for political office, but the opportunity to get involved with local government came about in 2009 to fill the District 7 Platte County Board of Supervisors seat when she was asked to fill a vacancy left by Bernie Friedrichsen, who had passed away.
“I have to say, I was looking forward to learning how government works in the county aspect,” she said of why she decided to do it.
Olk made the most of her time on the county board. Among her many accomplishments are helping Platte County in 2013 implement a Life Enhancing Action Plan (LEAP), which is a wellness program for Platte County employees that was incentivized, accountable and included an ongoing educational component. She reached out to other businesses and shared the educational component with the City of Columbus and Nebraska Public Power District.
In 2017, she spearheaded the county’s move to become a Livestock Friendly designated county, and in 2010, she also gave her attention to the Juvenile Services Planning Task Force and participated in their workshops to learn of their challenges to make better decisions.
She said she’s proud of a lot of the things the board accomplished during her 10-year tenure, but noted a few things specifically stand out. A major one was serving as the county liaison for the Platte County Extension Board from 2010-2018 and initiating the office’s move from the basement of the courthouse to another nearby downtown Columbus building at 2715 13th St.
“The Extension Office here has people involved - that’s all they think about,” Olk said. “It was easy for me to know we needed to get them out of the basement of the courthouse. What they can do for our youth is exceptional. Youth is a big piece for me. The youth are our future.”
Another highlight was linking up the veteran’s services offices of Platte and Colfax counties.
Olk served the county as a supervisor for just over a decade, winning two terms before getting defeated in last year’s primary. The experience of serving in that role was humbling and rewarding, she noted.
“Outstanding,” she said of her time on the board, adding her appreciation to Pinnacle Bank for being flexible with her schedule so she could serve in the role. “People probably would be surprised because I would get kind of stressed out at those meetings, but you learn a lot about working with different personalities.”
On a recent evening, Olk and one of her sons, Chet, were among the many visiting with each other while sitting underneath a shelter just east of the Pawnee Plunge entrance in south Columbus. As she looked around and saw the plaque commemorating the structure’s creation, she couldn’t help but smile.
Olk organized members of the Columbus Home Builders Association, a local advocate to keep the cost of housing and remodeling at affordable levels for everyone, in creating it. She makes no mention of her involvement, but rather the dedication of Chet and CHBA members for helping build it and the latter for making it happen. Seeing people enjoying the outdoor shelter made her happy that day.
“She’s very caring for others. She’s a hard worker; she’s always there when you need her and always wants people to be happy,” Chet said of his mom. “And she’s always been that way. To tell you the truth, I wish I could be more like that.”
Breuer had a similar perspective.
“She’s a friend, a helpful friend. She’ll do anything for you,” he said. “Holly has a solid Midwestern work ethic. She’s a good leader. She’s a dedicated Kiwanis member …”
When she’s not enjoying time with her young granddaughter, Laylah; husband, Mike; and three sons, Austin, Chet and Wade, Olk likes to be involved in community initiatives.
“It’s my social,” she said. “I feel very strongly about this community. People act like they care and I believe they really do.
“They are very giving and maybe they are other places, maybe it is just as wonderful somewhere else, but it’s such a comfort knowing everything about the community. It’s been easy to stay here and have no desire to go someplace else because of the loving environment.”
Olk has been and continues to be involved in a variety of community ventures. A noon Kiwanis Club member since 1993, she is currently serving her third term as its president. Since 2001, she has been in charge of the club’s fundraising, responsible for helping raise more than $115,000 that has been pumped back into the community.
In 2000, she started a nonprofit and facilitated home buyer education for the following nine years so area families could qualify for more than $750,000 of down payment assistance and grants. She contributed the $30,000 of education funds she raised for matching dollars that resulted in the opening of NeighborWorks Northeast Nebraska’s satellite office in Columbus.
She is a 2008 founding member and serves as treasurer on the Columbus Area E-Ship Center’s board. She also acts as secretary treasurer for the Columbus Home Builders Association. A member of that organization since 1982, she is a past president and executive officer on top of being a home show committee member since 1992.
Olk has never looked at her engagement in the community as work. It’s not just fun for her - it's an opportunity to constantly honor her late father.
“He was a really good mentor growing up. Everything was always just about Columbus,” she said. “It wasn’t necessarily the town, but just the family of community. It’s different than if you’re living someplace else like Omaha, where I think I would feel lost.”
Olk doesn’t get involved with various organizations and give her time for accolades or attention, but rather to inspire others.
“My whole role is pretty much being a messenger. I learn about something and then I tell my employer, Kiwanis and the Columbus Home Builders and the Columbus Realtors Association, too. I just spread the word - it’s really nothing special,” she said. “When you are connected it gives you the comfort of feeling safe because you don’t feel alone … there are friends, acquaintances, everywhere.
“Being involved with your church, your children’s sports or scouts or 4-H and be prepared to transition as your family and time allow. I’m never bored and there is always something I need to get done. I have a purpose and I’m so grateful to be living here with my family.”
As for being known for bringing doughnuts to functions over the years, she’s good with it and will likely keep doing it if it spreads some cheer.
“I personally like a fresh plain doughnut or a fresh maple iced cake doughnut. I’m pretty easy but it must be fresh!” she said. “I still think that’s funny that I’m the doughnut gal for them. That’s hilarious.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.