The idea of Steve Swiontek in retirement is implausible. The long-time president and CEO of Fargo-based Gate City Bank did retire in June, but will stay on as chairman of the board. That is good news for the bank and, I suspect, also for Steve, who has earned a break from the day-to-day challenges of managing the bank. However, It is likely that he will remain one of Fargo’s most dedicated community leaders. It’s in his DNA, his persona, his focus on the vital role of good corporate citizenship. That was his style as a bank executive, and before that as a North Dakota legislator, Fargo School Board member and right up to this day with the North Dakota State University Alumni Foundation.

Steve is North Dakota through and through. His roots are in Edgeley, from a family of modest means. Following education at NDSU, he joined the bank. That was 42 years ago. As he earned executive positions, he and his team expanded the bank from a local savings and loan into a regional banking powerhouse. He established Gate City not only as a sound financial institution, but also as a champion of intelligently targeted philanthropy and community service. He raised the bar for civic engagement by banks and other businesses.


Steve is the first to credit his team for the bank’s success. He emphasizes that the bank’s people have always been involved in civic organizations. True enough. But leadership is not to be minimized. Innovation and creativity that stimulate good ideas most often come from the top.

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It’s no fluke that Gate City perennially ranks as one of the best places to work in Fargo-Moorhead. Steve’s tenure has influenced for the better the atmosphere and vitality of the workplace. That comfort among bank employees is, by my observations during nearly 30 years of banking there, reflected in the competence and sincerity of everyone from tellers to vice presidents.

Service is a primary component of Gate City’s business model; and Steve, by virtue of his demonstrated personal commitment, has inspired the practical realization of that principle. The results include unflagging support for NDSU and Bison athletics (Gate City Field at the Fargodome, for example), and partnership with the city to provide incentives for the rehabilitation of vintage homes in older neighborhoods.

To be sure, Gate City is not alone among local banks that practice good corporate citizenship and personal banking. But my experience has been with Steve and his bank, and it has been extraordinary. When my family needed help many years ago to deal with fallout from my financial missteps, a bank we’d been patronizing wouldn’t go the extra mile. Steve and Gate City did. They weighed intangible factors, such as character, family and stability, and delivered what we needed. We moved all our banking business to Gate City.

Steve is a banker and a friend. His career has been exceptional, not only because of the success of Gate City, but also because of his devotion to his state and city. I wish him the best in a new chapter of his life; but I wonder about “retirement.” Will he back away from public service? Will he shed his proclivity for altruism and philanthropy? Not a chance.