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Retired banker Lee Stenseth dies at 83

Lee Stenseth, who helped create the Bank of Vancouver 30 years ago and was active in several business groups, died earlier this month. He was 83.

Stenseth served on the board of directors for the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Identity Clark County and Southwest Washington Medical Center, now PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

Stenseth was born in Jamestown, N.D., in 1936 and graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1958. He was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and earned a letter playing golf for the university. He went on to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After relocating to Clark County, Stenseth worked as senior vice president at Northwest National Bank until he and other investors started the Bank of Vancouver in 1989. He was the bank’s president for the next nine years.

“We were profitable the first year,” Stenseth told The Columbian in 1999. “No one thought it would happen that quickly.”

At the same time, Stenseth was acutely aware of how banking was changing to a more competitive industry where bankers needed to aggressively court opportunities.

“Banking no longer means putting on the eyeshades and counting beans,” he said. “If you do that, you’re history. You’ve got to be a hustler.”

Bank of Vancouver merged with West Coast Bank in 1996, two years before Stenseth retired. Columbia Bank purchased West Coast Bank in 2012.

Stenseth told The Columbian in 2003 that despite mergers and acquisitions, people still appreciate home-grown banks.

“I still think a small bank is a people game, and that’s why they like it,” he said. “It’s people-to-people versus people-to-machine.”

Stenseth retired in 1998, after 40 years in banking, and focused on golf, travel and woodworking during the final two decades of his life.

His daughter, Lisa Dow, followed her father’s banking footsteps and works as executive vice president and chief risk officer at Columbia Bank.

Stenseth also is survived by his wife, Janette, son, Phillip Stenseth, and four grandchildren: Natalie and Will Dow and Emma and Olivia Stenseth.

A memorial service is scheduled for today in Scottsdale, Ariz. Donations can be made to Hospice of the Valley in the Greater Phoenix area.


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