Alumnus award winner heeded Wyomingâ€™s allure to return
Wheatland — Laramie Peak hasn’t changed locales from where it has for millennia dominated the skyline and watched the business of life in southeast Wyoming.
Not so for the guy in the corner office – the president’s office – of Platte Valley Bank not far off Interstate 25 in Wheatland. Laramie Peak saw Keith Geis uprooted to Laramie as a high school junior from the dairy he grew up on southwest of town. He was sidetracked to Alabama and Iowa before returning to the mountain’s landscape.
Crisscrossing the country, raising a family, and returning to his hometown haven’t seemed to alter the ideals Geis was taught when young.
“I’m an advocate of being the very best you should be and giving back to the world around you,” says Geis about what he would say to University of Wyoming freshmen. “Pay your dues forward. Do something for someone else, and don’t expect anything in return. If you do, you will be successful no matter what you do.”
A cowboy creed hangs on his office wall. Spurs rest in a cubbyhole not far from his desk.
“Anyone who knows Keith knows he loves Wyoming and the University of Wyoming,” writes Billie Addleman of the Hirst Applegate law firm in Cheyenne. “He wears that passion on his sleeve, and I cannot think of a better ambassador of our state and university than Keith Geis.”
Dennis Sun, publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup in Casper, has served with Geis on several non-profit organizations. “The values and passion he has in helping others is unequaled in Wyoming,” notes Sun.
Not bad for someone who had worked as a laborer at the UW Stock Farm and huddled with his wife, Marie, in the bachelor’s huts while attending UW. His parents, Zane and Gladys, and the rest of the family moved to Laramie in 1969 when his father went to work for the university’s micro veterinary laboratory.
A graduate of Laramie High School, he attended Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa. He married Marie when a sophomore and moved back to Laramie. “My wife is from Mobile, Ala. and she can share some interesting stories,” says Geis. “She had never experienced winters like Laramie can periodically provide.” He earned his bachelor’s in agriculture economics from UW in 1975.
Why economics? “It was intriguing to me in finding ways one might increase efficiency or be better at allocating resources to increase profitability to the bottom line,” he says. He interned with the then-Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) in Basin and worked in Torrington after graduation. He then took a political appointment with FmHA in Geneva, Ala. After a year and a half, his wife encouraged their family to move back to Wyoming.
“Even though she was from Mobile, she did not realize a place existed in rural Alabama like Geneva,” he relates. “It was evident after administrations changed I was a Yankee. I was told I would move to Winston County, Ala.”
Winston County is known for its independent thinking. Deep in the South, it gained notoriety for its opposition to secession during the Civil War, which was so strong it was sometimes referred to as the Republic of Winston.
Geis never went to Winston County; he went to work for the Federal Land Bank in DeWitt, Iowa, then for Farm Credit Services in 1982. He was vice president of marketing. The organization began consolidating offices in 2002, but Geis had been through that process in the 1980s. “It had left a void in customer services,” he says.
Then came a phone call from Platte Valley Bank while he was driving one day. Would he be interested in moving to Wheatland to manage a bank?
“It was interesting and challenging,” he says. “I said, ‘Let’s go see what we can get done.’ It’s been a very rewarding endeavor, taking something from ground zero and creating and developing not only the bank building but the furniture, artwork, and portfolio and the relations that come with Platte Valley Financial Service Companies, Inc. Our footprint covers the eastern side of Wyoming and western Nebraska.”
There are offices in Wheatland, Casper, Torrington and Cheyenne in Wyoming, and in Scottsbluff, Minatare, Morrill and Bridgeport in Nebraska.
“Their philosophy of customer service and giving back to the community really fit well with my personal philosophy,” Geis notes. “You leave the world a better place than how you found it.”
There was a professional carrot, too. Geis had always been in the top five out of 500 lenders with Farm Credit Services but could never change how it operated. “In a $5 billion organization, unless you are the leader, you don’t have the ability to change the way it sails,” he says. “I could see at Platte Valley Bank I could have the latitude to paint my own picture. It’s been very rewarding.”
He and Marie have a grown son and daughter and four granddaughters.
Article courtesy of the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture.