FARGO - Longtime area banker Steve Swiontek received one of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce top honors, being named the 2019 Legacy Leader at the group’s annual meeting Thursday, Sept. 12.
Swiontek, executive chair and chairman of the board of Gate City Bank, was praised for his drive, passion for innovation, love of philanthropy, and dogged determination to share a gentle, quirky sense of humor.
“He has served in so many different capacities. It’s hard to name just one. But that’s what makes a leader. That’s what makes a community leader. And that’s what Steve is,” Chamber President and CEO Craig Whitney said as part of a video montage.
“As president and CEO of the bank he has brought the bank to new heights that we never expected,” said Rod Larson, a Gate City Bank board member. At the same time, Larson praised Swiontek’s compassion - a recurring theme throughout the lunchtime event at the Holiday Inn.
“He’s a very genuine, empathetic guy who cares deeply about people around him,” Larson said. Kevin Hanson, president and CEO of Gate City, said Swiontek’s initiatives helped put more young people in homes and more women in leadership roles at the bank.
“Just the overall culture he’s created, of creating this environment where we’re trying to do meaningful things” and give back to our communities,” Hanson said.
- Swiontek adds 2019 Legacy Leader to collection of honors
“Steve is competitive. Has a very strong sense of urgency … he has such an aversion to complacency,” Hanson added. “He’s like the coach you had in high school, he’s obviously always trying to make me a better person. And I always admire him for doing that.”
North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani said Swiontek’s support of the school, its mission and its students is unmatched.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who’s more sincere, who’s more passionate. But at the same time, more professional and more focused. Steve kind of is the whole package, if you will,” Bresciani said.
At the same time, family and friends know Swiontek as a man with crazy patterned socks whose middle name might as well be “Mischievous.”
He’ll wear fingernail polish to a board meeting because it was painted on by a granddaughter, and will take a special joy - and perhaps a joyously fiendish revenge - on telemarketers by keeping them on the line, and even calling them back until they block him.
“We always start our day off with an uninspirational quote,” said Kim Meyer, a Gate City executive vice president. “Like, ‘Kim, just be yourself, because no one else wants to be you.’”
Mary Anne Swiontek said her husband of more than 40 years has spent his life helping others.
“What he does is go around and solve things,” Mary Anne said. That includes his involvement with the YWCA and helping women and children in need.
Erin Prochnow, CEO of YWCA Cass Clay said it was Swiontek who came through to pledge $1.5 million in support for the agency’s Grace Garden housing project in West Fargo.
Swiontek thanked his mentors and Gate City team members for helping him earn the Legacy Leader award.
Swiontek credited Prakash Mathew, a former NDSU vice president for student affairs, for teaching him to laugh at himself, learn from mistakes “and understand being a servant leader.”
He thanked Bob Anderson, a former chairman, president and CEO of Gate City, for his patience in teaching him to take on the responsibility of caring for others, being decisive, “and to not be afraid of consequences when you know you make the right decision.”
Swiontek will retire in June 2020 at Gate City, and become chairman of the bank’s board of directors.
He urged the event’s attendees to “seek out the needs and to provide the solutions for a better way of life” in the community.
And, after all that inspiration, Swiontek didn’t fail to leave them with an uninspirational grin to bring everyone back down to earth.
“If opportunity knocks on your door, it probably has the wrong address.”