Blue Collar Banker
Jerry Jacobson is a bank president with a blue collar past and sincere dedication to community.
By Jeffrey Hage
Hard work pays large dividends. That's a lesson Chippewa Falls banker Jerry Jacobson has been learning all his life.
Growing up in Chippewa Falls, Jacobson learned about the work ethic and the importance of community. His father ground out metal parts as a machinist, while his mother counted out other people's money at the local bank. It was an honest living for a family on Chippewa Falls' blue-collar East Hill.
Jacobson hasn't forgotten those roots, and it shows in how he works to make life better for the working class people and the entire Chippewa Falls community.
Lessons learned in school earned Jacobson a college education. Hard work in college earned him a Master's degree. And it was that Master's degree that allowed Jacobson to return home to Chippewa Falls and live out a dream -- a dream that took root in 1976.
That's when former Northwestern Bank president Bill Pickerign hired Jacobson as a deposit box clerk.
At Northwestern Bank, Pickerign reinforced the blue-collar work ethic and community values that Jacobson's parents had instilled in him many years earlier.
For nearly 20 years Jacobson learned the ropes as he climbed up Northwestern Bank's corporate ladder on his way to appointment as bank president after Pickerign's retirement.
Through his role as president of Chippewa Falls' only locally-owned bank, Jacobson has played an active role in reinforcing the foundation of a strong community. That has cemented his role as one of the premiere business leaders in Chippewa County.
"But I couldn't be who I am today without the support of the people around me," he said.
The bank's board of directors has urged Jacobson to be involved in business and civic arenas.
"Without them urging me on and giving me a good staff, I wouldn't be able to be as involved in the community," Jacobson said.
"It begins from the board on down, and from the staff on up. I can't stress that enough," he said. "The board sees giving back to the community as pretty important. The bank invests the time, money and skills of not just me, but about 90 percent of our employees into community-based programs."
From a business standpoint, Jacobson plays a significant role in expanding the industrial base of Chippewa Falls by serving on the board of directors of the city's Industrial Development Corporation. With Jacobson's strong background in finance, he plays a role in helping attract new business and industry to Chippewa Falls, as well as aiding existing businesses with expansion plans.
The 1971 Chippewa Falls High School graduate also is involved with the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. He will serve as chamber president next year.
Jacobson will be leading the chamber at a critical time in the city's history, when it is faced with the challenges of the Highway 29 bypass and the sale and development of nearly 300 acres of property near Northern Center for commercial and residential development.
The chamber's role in these issues is significant, Jacobson said.
But being involved in the business community can put him in a peculiar position from time to time.
"There are times I have to make sure I'm wearing the right hat," he said. "The role of the bank is to get projects that we need in town. I have to be careful not to use the information I acquire against the other financial institutions in town."
And there's a flip side too, he said.
"When working with the IDC or chamber, I can't let myself think that something's not good for Chippewa Falls just because it might not be good for Northwestern Bank," he said.
Being president of the area's largest lending institution also makes Jacobson work a little harder for a project.
"To make sure things happen I sometimes have to push - and then push a little more," he said.
Jacobson carries that commitment beyond the workplace and into his private life, where he sees contributing to the betterment of the community as his civic responsibility.
"The project dear to me is my work with the Chippewa Area Community Foundation, " he said.
The foundation, Jacobson explains, is a means for individuals, families, and corporate donors to contribute money to help communities throughout Chippewa County.
"I believe in the foundation because down the road our kids and grandkids will benefit," Jacobson said. "This has implications that are more far-reaching than anything else we could be involved in."
Jacobson is a civic leader with the United Way, YMCA and the Chippewa Area Catholic School system, as well.
"This is the community that raised me. It gave me a job and a lifestyle I never expected to have," he said.
"It's important to give back to the people of Chippewa and to its schools and parks so the next generation of 'Little Jerrys' have opportunities. The opportunities in Chippewa Falls help kids grow up to be good adults," he said.
And just as Jacobson learned an important message about community from his parents and the likes of Bill Pickerign, the children of Chippewa Falls will do the same, he says.
"Through our actions, they will learn that it's their responsibility to do the same thing wherever they go. No matter where they are, they will know they have to give back."
No, Jacobson hasn't forgotten his roots and the lessons learned on that blue-collar East Hill.
Jeff Hage is a reporter for the Chippewa Herald. Contact the Chippewa Valley Business Report at 723-5515 or through www.chippewavalleybusinessreport.com.
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