Don Olivier: Community activist and SCVB co-founder passes at 84

November 16, 2012
Santa Paula News

Don Olivier was a Renaissance man and Santa Paula was his world. A devoted husband, community activist, banker, traveler, collector, historian, philanthropist, church supporter, Santa Paula advocate and dear friend, Don passed Tuesday, November 13 at age 84.

Born in Fillmore on July 20, 1928, Don remained in the Santa Clara River Valley his whole life. He graduated from Santa Paula High School in 1946 and served in the Korean War. He was married to Velma for 49 years, her caregiver until she passed in October 2010. 

Don cherished lifelong friendships that often spilled over into the next generation. 

Gary Cullins said Don had been a friend of his parents, and they forged their own friendship through joint service to the Fillmore-Santa Paula Masonic Lodge #291. “We spent holidays together; I was a Lodge brother and friend of Don’s since the mid-70s when I really started to know him.”

They worked together on the board of directors, and Cullins said Don  “Was just a real nice fellow who gave of himself - and his finances - to a lot of organizations and community needs.... Don was very, very generous.”

There wasn’t a service organization that Don didn’t support, whether directly or behind the scenes.

A member of Santa Paula Kiwanis since 1960, Don served numerous terms as president, secretary and treasurer. He was also Lt. Governor of the Kiwanis Club district, and was honored with prestigious Kiwanis International awards.

Don belonged to and heavily supported the First Christian Church for 75 years - most of his life - and served multiple terms as deacon, elder and chairman of the board. He also served the church Regional Board as treasurer and was selected to the Western States Region Board of Directors of the Disciples of Christ Foundation.

Not only a member of the Masonic Lodge, Cullins said Don also belonged with Velma to the Santa Paula Eastern Star, serving the latter as “Worthy Patron five times, and in 1996 Don was the statewide Grand Chaplain.” Don was also active with the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce, the Ventura County YMCA, United Way, and the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Paula. For many years Don was a Santa Clara Valley Hospice/Home Support Group Board director. 

He and his late wife Velma were honored as the SPUHS Alumnus of the Year in 1999. Both were active on the SPUHS Alumni Association for years.

Don and Velma loved to entertain special anniversaries at the historic Mupu Grill on East Main Street, of which he was a partner.

Don’s professional career often had something to do with helping others find a home. In 1970, he was selected the first executive director of the Santa Paula Housing Authority, and he later also headed the Ventura County Housing Authority.

In 1980, Don joined Santa Paula Savings & Loan - where Velma also worked - where he met Scott Rushing, recently out of college and starting out in the business world. “I was in my early 20s, and Don was probably in his 50s,” said Rushing. “He was a very pleasant guy, very sweet, a cheerleader for Santa Paula and very positive.

“I never heard Don whine or gripe, he always looked on the half-full side of the glass... even then and of course more so later” as Velma’s health failed. “The way Don took care of Velma was unbelievable. They were a very close couple, very involved in small town activities.”

Rushing and Don’s friendship clicked. “It’s interesting... he and I would talk about opening a small commercial bank; we felt there was a niche between Santa Paula Savings & Loan, which provided home loans, and Citizens, which primarily served small business. I think I was all of 23 when we talked about opening a bank doing something in between, but Citizens was doing so well in serving the community” it remained just talk.

Rushing doesn’t remember if he called Don or if Don called him close to 20 years later when it was announced that Citizens Bank, the community bank since 1929, was being sold. “When we got the word in 1996 or so that Citizens was being bought out he was on the phone to me and I was on the phone to him... we went out to lunch that day and said let’s do it.”

First they hired a consultant to do an analysis that confirmed their belief a new community bank would be viable. A list of potential investors was created, and “We spoke to about 600 people,” contacts that by banking law had to be carefully documented.

“We went out and spoke to people and it fell together.... Santa Paula is not a wealthy community, but it wasn’t just money that caused them to invest but attitude, the confidence these investors had attitude.”

Rushing said, “I brought the youth and energy and maybe some business direct lending experience” to the table, while “Don brought the senior folks. He was a representative of the community, so well respected overall. Don gave an air of security to the project so people would feel confident that this was the real deal, not a scam where their money would disappear.”

Rushing said he and Don “were a good blend... I could not have done it on my own; the public would have seen it just as a real estate investment. I would have gotten nowhere without him for sure.... It was Don’s leadership, vision and desire to create a bank for the community... he felt a calling to this project. It wasn’t really a business venture; it was a service, a calling.”

And those who heard the call responded, leading to the creation of Santa Clara Valley Bank - opened in 1998 and with branch offices in Fillmore and Valencia.

Don was the Chairman of the Board, a position, Rushing said, “Don loved; he loved working on bank activities, working on community activities.... He gave it up for Velma” so they could enjoy travel and spend more time together as her health worsened, which is “pretty indicative of his commitment.”

Aside from being avid travelers, Don and Velma were also local history buffs, dog lovers and antique collectors.

“Don spent almost all his time taking care of Velma for about a decade” before she passed, and shortly thereafter he became very ill. In recent months Don had enjoyed a trip to Hawaii, where he and Velma had a second home.

Overall, Rushing said he remembers Don as “positive, always positive, with a great sense of humor and definitely a cheerleader of Santa Paula and the Santa Clara River Valley. He always could be counted on... he contributed to a variety of nonprofits as a volunteer and giving financial support.... It’s so painful to lose these guys,” said Rushing, “you want them to live to be 100.”  

Services are scheduled for Saturday, December 1 at 11 a.m., to be held at First Christian Church. More details will be published later.

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