Amazing Outside Directors 2022: Dennis Everson

Dennis Everson

Helping to run a community bank and an artisanal cheese shop may seem like two very different responsibilities. To Dennis Everson, director of the Yankton, S.D.-based First Dakota National Bank and co-owner of Dimock Cheese, the attraction in undertaking both roles stems from the companies’ similarities: Both have overcome potentially fatal challenges during their long histories and both have embraced a community-centric approach. 

Everson, who is playing these leading roles after retiring from a nearly 30-year career as an ag banker at First Dakota, which concluded in 2013, is being recognized by BankBeat as a 2022 “Amazing Outside Director.” 

Ag finance had entered a tailspin during the early part of Everson’s banking career. As land prices drastically fell during the 1980s, many farmers went bankrupt, leading to a record number of foreclosures. Everson contemplated leaving the industry more than once but opted to forge ahead after receiving a call from First Dakota Bank’s Larry Ness, who offered Everson a job. “We had great leadership, we had a great team, and it was just wonderful,” Everson said of the beginning of his First Dakota career. “It changed my whole attitude about my career.” 

Everson’s career at First Dakota proved to be extraordinary, both at the bank and statewide: In 26 years, he grew the bank’s ag loan portfolio from approximately $750,000 in 1984 to one of the largest in the United States, largely by developing the Dakota Mortgage Ag Credit (Dakota MAC) loan program at the bank. Today, Dakota MAC remains the only originator of Farmer Mac loans of its kind in the nation and provides farmers with fixed rate real estate financing. In 1999, Everson, on behalf of First Dakota National Bank, applied for and was certified by the USDA as the first “Preferred Lender” in the United States. Under his guidance, The First Dakota Ag Division has originated approximately $75 million of USDA government guaranteed loans. He also helped start the South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership Program, a two-year ag leadership training initiative that identifies and trains emerging South Dakota ag leaders. 

Everson, who retired from First Dakota at the age of 63, knew he wanted to stay active in retirement after he stepped away from his full-time position. “I was always concerned … I watched too many people, some of them peers of mine, some of them were mentors of mine, who retired and went and sat in a chair, and I’m not one of those people,” he said. “And I wanted to retire early because I wanted to do things a lot like what I ended up doing at Dimock.” 

Everson’s key role on the First Dakota bank board over the last nine years has been informing bankers of the frequently changing conditions in the ag industry. He does this by staying close to the ag sector, including by continuing education and attending the American Bankers Association’s Agricultural Bankers Conference, an annual gathering he has attended since 1987. “It’s my responsibility, as a board member, to remain abreast of what’s going on inside not just the ag sector but the whole banking sector, to stay close to it as well if I am going to do my job,” he said.  

In opting to assume an ownership stake at Dimock, Everson, who did so with several others in 2015, saw similarities in the two companies: Dimock Cheese was founded during the depths of the Great Depression. First Dakota, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, also weathered economic crises. Everson sees those shared stories of perseverance as testaments to the importance of knowing the right people to hire: Employees who buy into your culture and have a positive attitude. He disdains micromanaging and instead wants employees working in these companies to have more say in how they operate.

Even more importantly, Everson sees the two companies as integral parts of their communities. First Dakota has branches in small towns in both South Dakota and Nebraska.  Dimock Cheese is headquartered in a town of 125, where the only other business is a veterinary clinic. Dimock hand-crafts various artisanal cheese products and uses milk produced by small dairy farms.

“It’s just a piece of me, it’s a thread of me … it’s awesome,” Everson said of the community vision he shares with both companies. “It’s awesome to be part of a company that’s part of a community and helps make their community better. Dimock Cheese is no different.”