As the calendar turns from February to March, the short month should receive a boldfaced footnote in local history for the loss of two South Sound icons within five days of each other.
Gone too soon at age 64, Dressel was a CEO who broke through the glass ceiling, not through force of ambition but by the power of strong values, relational skills and kindness. She helped build Columbia Bank into a Tacoma business cornerstone and Northwest financial empire with 143 branches in three states — and still growing.
Seventeen years ago, after coming up through management ranks, Dressel took the helm at Columbia with humility after weighing the promotion for a year. “I did a lot of soul searching and a lot of discernment around ‘Am I really ready?’ ” she later told a Seattle Times columnist.
She was ready, indeed, and Columbia’s headquarters city is better for her decision. Tacoma has benefited from the corporate stability and community philanthropy that Dressel preached and lived.
The region’s volatile banking industry is on more solid ground, too. Dressel was known for a humane approach to Columbia’s many acquisitions. She adhered to a “no jerks” culture even as her bank weathered the Great Recession, a cutthroat time that didn’t always bring out the best in U.S. financial executives.
Tacoma will miss her. It already does.
Three weeks shy of turning 99, Oldfield died as as he lived: a real-deal western pioneer and gifted artist. He helped the Puyallup Fair preserve a glimmer of Old West street cred, still grinning about “shaking hands and hookin’ girls” at the fair as recently as two years ago.
Like a latter-day “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Oldfield’s story traced an arc from American cowboy to showman. He bootstrapped from a youth of fixing covered wagons to a twilight career in which his legend was captured in song and some of his paintings sold for $10,000 apiece.
Oldfield didn’t start painting full time until his 40s, and not until his early 80s did he establish his namesake Western Heritage and Art Center, where he taught year-round. Fair patrons who entered through the Red Gate couldn’t miss the place, and might’ve rubbed elbows with the wry old artist wearing cowboy hat and duds.
Nationally known for creating frontier landscapes infused with an ethereal light, Oldfield brought an ageless quality to his oil paintings and a generous spirit that lit the way for the next generation of artists.
In résumé and demeanor, Dressel and Oldfield couldn’t have been more different. But the banker and the cowboy had more in common than meets the eye.
Both grew up in small towns east of the Cascades, in American Indian country — she in Colville, he in Toppenish.
Both had a love for Tacoma, the city that spread out in all its gritty splendor from their respective high-rise windows: For Dressel, from her corner office atop the Columbia Bank Building; for Oldfield, from his home studio overlooking the waterfront.
And both had a passion for education that will touch the lives of young people long after their deaths. Dressel’s memorial gifts are targeted for students at University of Washington Tacoma; she also was a benefactor of Bellarmine Preparatory School, where her memorial service will be held March 11. Oldfield painted prolifically and auctioned his work to fund college scholarships. This year’s fundraiser will go on without him March 17, and a memorial will follow in late spring.
The honors will surely flow like a warm spring rain in the coming months. Edifices and scholarships will likely be named for Dressel. A permanent exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum would be a fitting tribute to Oldfield, should the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art choose to show several of his works.
But for now, we echo the sentiments of Faith Brower, the Haub wing curator. She hailed Oldfield as “a Tacoma institution.”
It’s a description that applies to the cowboy, and to the banker, too.