FARGO — When Steve Swiontek turns in his key-fob at Gate City Bank in a few days, it will be the start of retirement after a 42-year career at the downtown bank. A career that saw a sleepy, savings and loan turn into a powerhouse bank that has donated millions to the region in recent years.
When Swiontek left the comforts of his hometown of Edgeley, N.D., for college at North Dakota State University, he brought with him purpose. He knew the power of teamwork and the benefit of rarely taking credit. He would go on to use these skills at Gate City.
"The credit, again, really goes to the team members for embracing the philosophy of making a difference," Swiontek said.
In his 42 years at the bank, Swiontek climbed the ladder to the top, becoming chairman, president and CEO. He changed the role of the bank from a savings and loan to a community bank that has quietly changed the face of our region. Last year, he left his role as president and CEO, becoming executive chair and chair of the board.
The bank grew from 16 locations to 43, and now has just over $2 billion in assets. Many of those dollars end up going back to the community.
Swiontek says the work he does is more than a career. He embraces the fact that he can make a difference in peoples' lives. "My daughter and I went on a Jamaican mission trip 17 years ago, and that changed me mentally, physically, emotionally and faith-wise. I saw that and thought, 'I have an obligation to make a difference and so do our team members.'"
Swiontek said that in over 15 years, the bank has donated roughly $30 million in both North Dakota and western Minnesota. The donations helped create student and housing loans, as well as encouraged employees to do mission work and volunteer in the community.
"They do volunteer hours on company time," Swiontek said. "It's very easy to say 'well gee, go out and volunteer, but don't do it on company time,' and that's what's gratifying to see."
After four decades, Swiontek leaves behind quite the legacy and good memories, but it would be his grandson that tipped the scale towards retirement.
"When you have your five-year-old grandson say he came home from school and the teacher asked him 'who is your favorite friend' and when you have a five-year-old grandson say, 'Papa,' that sends the right message," Swiontek said.