Randy Geiger, servant leader to dairy industry, passes away

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Randy Geiger, holding Ran-Rose Blitz Allstar EX-9, a cow that produced over 200,000 pounds of milk, and traces directly back to one of Randy’s first purchases he made as a young farmer in 1968. The family's 152-year-old seen in the background.

As farmer Josh Krahn prepared to plant crops this spring, he pulled out his phone to give Randy Geiger a call for a bit of advice. A natural tendency for the young farmer who worked as Geiger's herdsman for nearly five years at Ran-Rose Farms in rural Reedsville, Wis.

"He was like a father figure to me, always willing to lend a hand or answer the many questions I had," said Krahn. "Without him, farming on my own wouldn't have been possible, especially trying to get a dairy business started nowadays."

The Green Bay farmer said he will miss Geiger, who passed away on Sept. 9, 2019, at the age of 69, following complications from a heart attack that he suffered just 18 days earlier while side-raking hay on the family's 152-year-old farm.

"I'm still learning stuff every day and it's going to be hard not being able to call him for advice or to stop in and talk to him," Krahn said. "He was just always there when you needed him."

According to Geiger's son, Corey, helping young people get started in agriculture was perhaps his proudest accomplishment next to his wife and children. He considered Krahn and other young farmers as “adopted farm sons” that learned viable life lessons at Geiger's “farm classroom.”

Helping hand and more

Wherever and whenever there was a need for a helping hand, Randy Geiger stepped forward to fill it. In fact, just two days before the Flight for Life helicopter whisked him away to Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Geiger was in the thick of things, working in the Manitowoc County Farm Bureau’s food stand at the county fair.

"Randy was a kind and considerate man, who was always quick and happy to help others," said John M. Meyer, Chief Executive Officer of Holstein Association USA. "The dairy community at large and his local community lost a passionate leader with his passing."

Friends and family and those who associated with Geiger in agricultural circles far and wide, describe his life mission as a dairyman, servant leader, mentor, family man, and devout Christian. 

Born the fifth of thirteen children, Geiger began a 50-year career in dairy farming following his father’s untimely death in 1966. Together with his wife, Rosalie, they bred and developed a prized herd of registered Holsteins.

In 1994, Ran-Rose Cream Spirit amassed lifetime production of 342,000 pounds or 40,700 gallons of milk and then earned the title of Wisconsin’s lifetime milk production leader. Together, Spirit and her three direct maternal descendants made 1.3 million pounds or 155,000 gallons of milk. That achievement stands in rare company in global dairy cattle breeding circles.

With Randy’s compassionate cow care, the milk quality at Ran-Rose Farms, with Randy being the “Ran” and Rosalie being the “Rose,” was among the very best in the nation. From 1996 to 2015, the herd was awarded the Manitowoc County DHIA Udder Health Award each and every year and maintained a somatic cell score — a measure of cow and udder health — under 100,000 cells.

In 2013, the herd averaged a “hall-of-fame level” 37,000 cells on all shipped milk to their milk plant. In 2002, the herd was recognized by the National Mastitis Council as a National Dairy Quality Award winner.

Ag advocate for all

According to Geiger's family, over the decades, the herd accrued Progressive Breeder of Registry awards, over a dozen Progressive Genetics Awards, Gold Medal Dams, and Dams of Merit recognitions from Holstein Association USA. Twelve times a cow from the Ran-Rose herd earned Grand Champion or Reserve Grand Champion honors at the highly competitive Manitowoc County Fair.

Geiger also prided himself on doing the right thing for others. Following the bankruptcy of rural Brillion’s Kasson Cheese plant in May 1989, he began a crusade to find some way to help the 170 farmers who collectively lost $2.1 million in milk check money that year.

The Geiger family celebrates the the sesquicentennial milestone of Ran-Rose Farms at the Wisconsin State Fair, front row from left, Corey Geiger, holding Mary Zwald; Rosalie Geiger, holding Allison Zwald; Angela Zwald, holding Zachary Zwald; second row, Krista Knigge (wife of Corey Geiger), Randy Geiger, and Nate Zwald. The family farm established in 1867, was passed down to Randy and Rosalie by her parents, Julie and Elmer Pritzl.

After writing well over 250 letters and making countless phone calls to elected officials, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson signed a bill into law in April 1991 to restore half of the money following potential state negligence in a bonding issue regarding the Kasson plant.

“If nobody says anything, nobody does anything,” said Geiger in a news interview after standing directly behind the Governor at the bill signing. With that foundation, Randy went on to become a visible and effective voice in local, state, and national public policy, lobbying elected officials at all levels on behalf of farmers and rural residents.

"From the meeting rooms of numerous dairy organizations to the halls of U.S. Congress, Randy Geiger was a passionate believer in the importance of cooperation and the value of serving others," said Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation. "He was a great advocate for dairy farmers in all of his endeavors. His passing is a huge loss for the entire dairy community, but he leaves a legacy of leadership both within and beyond Wisconsin."

Mulhern says that one of NMPF's largest member cooperatives, FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative, owes its formation to the leadership role that Geiger played to help bring together three of Wisconsin's dairy marketing cooperatives into one powerful grassroots entity with more than 3,000 members.

For the past year, Geiger was employed part-time in the member-services division for FarmFirst.

Mulhern says his friend was also an active and important participant in the national public policy process affecting dairy producers through his service on the NMPF Board of Directors and other committees. He was also part of the group of dairy producers who oversaw the formation in 2003 of the Cooperatives Working Together program, a critically important dairy farmer-led effort to improve farm milk prices.

"In all these roles—and many more—Randy performed an exceptional job of representing the interests of dairy producers not just in the Midwest, but across the country as well," Mulhern said. "Randy's selfless, lifelong commitment to service is an example to others that will sorely be missed, but will not be forgotten."

Not only was Geiger's input valued on boards he served on across the state and beyond, but his passion was contagious, said Tammy Vaassen, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Beef Council.

"I quickly grew to appreciate how his presence would light up a board meeting—including the warmth of his laughter, the constructive feedback he brought to the table, and the passion he shared for agriculture," Vaassen said. 

Geiger also brought his A game out into the fields of his 376-acre farm. At the World’s Forage Superbowl, held in conjunction with World Dairy Expo, he garnered high honors in the extremely competitive Dairy Hay Division.

Randy Geiger leading school tours at World Dairy Expo.

Servant leader

Those “farm crops” he nurtured also included well-over 20 high school students who learned life lessons working on his farm. He also served as a director for World Dairy Expo and gave tours to school children at that international event.

"Randy was also a dedicated School Tour leader at World Dairy Expo and during his time on the WDE Board he was always a fierce advocate for youth investment and youth initiatives," said Scott Bentley WDE general manager.

It’s also on that farm where he raised his most important “crop,” his children Corey and Angela with his wife Rosalie.

"It’s hard to lose someone (a dad) who taught you the fundamentals of success for life," said Land 'O Lake Senior Vice President Pete Kappelman. "(Randy and Rosalie) led by example, considered impact on others, gave of themselves before they thought of themselves. (Their children) are proof of their good work."

Geiger's service to local, state and national boards and organizations is impressive to say the least. While he didn’t strive for excellence to earn awards, his son, Corey says his father appreciated the honors bestowed upon him.

And while his achievements on and off the farm were many, Geiger saw what really made up the fiber of the rural communities he so loved.

"He understood that Wisconsin agriculture and dairy are more than just bushels, bales and hundredweights—they're what unites us as people and communities," said Wisconsin Ag Secretary Designee Brad Pfaff. "He cared deeply for his neighbors and his own community, and he was a true steward of the land and animals he worked with. He shared the joy of farming with everyone he met. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to meet, speak and learn from Randy. All of Wisconsin benefited from his lifetime of dedication and commitment to agriculture and dairy."

Survivors include his wife, Rosalie Geiger of Reedsville; a son Corey (Krista Knigge) of rural Mukwonago; and a daughter Angela (Nate) Zwald and their three children, Mary, Allison, and Zachary, all of rural Beaver Dam.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 14 at Holy Family Catholic Church in Brillion. The Rev. Tom Pomeroy will officiate with burial to follow at Kasson’s Holy Trinity Cemetery between Brillion and Reedsville.

Friends may call at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Brillion on Friday, September 13, 2019, from 3:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. There will be a parish prayer service at 7:30 p.m. The visitation will continue at the church in Brillion on Saturday from 9 a.m. until the time of Mass at 10:30 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations and memorials will be accepted in the name of Randy Geiger. Contributions will be allocated to a scholarship fund in Randy’s name to help young people get their start in agriculture and to the American Heart Association.