How Peter Geiger Hon. ’14 is Making the World a Better Place
by Patricia Erikson
Avid outdoorsman. Champion of education. Tireless volunteer. Editor of the one of the most iconic publications in America. It’s hard to know where to begin describing Peter Geiger Hon. ’14 and his commitment to making the world a better place, but when documenting sustainability initiatives in the Saint Joseph’s College community, Geiger’s name tops the go-to list. As the Executive Vice President of Geiger, Peter Geiger heads up the four-generation family business with his brother, Gene. Based in Lewiston, Maine and employing more than 400 people nationwide, Geiger is the largest privately owned and managed promotional products distributor in the United States. Saint Joseph’s College Magazine approached Peter Geiger to talk about the company’s gold standard in changing corporate culture and daily life with sustainability principles.
When I parked at the Geiger facility, one of the first things I noticed was a massive, ground-mounted solar installation—696 panels, I later learned—one of the largest private solar arrays in Maine. After meeting me at the reception desk, Geiger walked me through the 105,000 square foot building dedicated to product distribution and office spaces. Characterized by an open concept design, skylights high overhead allow daylight to pass through and brighten the facility. As we passed a bank of big-screen monitors, he pointed to the real time display of energy being generated by the solar panels on the property.
“It wasn’t always like this,” Geiger confides as we sit down to a conference table. “Working with the City of Lewiston, my father built the original facility in 1954—a portion devoted to manufacturing and another part to offices. There were several expansions over the years. When production ended in 2013, we had a building with old boilers, a leaking roof, and inadequate space for today’s working environment. We renovated it, removed an acre of paved parking to limit impervious surfaces outside, and installed an underground chamber to capture and filter stormwater runoff.” Geiger credits the can-do spirit of the company and its orientation toward the common good to his father, Ray.
Stories about Ray Geiger have a Paul Bunyan quality to them. As a child in Newark, New Jersey, Ray was known to earn money by selling the dung of circus animals to farmers when Barnum & Bailey packed up and moved on to the next town. The exposure to the circus must have made an impression; Ray garnered his own reputation as a showman. Art Linkletter named him “the most interviewed man in America” (apparently he gave more than 30,000 appearances and interviews). Inclined toward using billboards to wish a happy anniversary to his wife, Ray once escalated it further and borrowed the Goodyear Blimp to emblazon it with “Thank you Ann for 25 Good Years.”
It’s clear that Ray’s larger-than-life personality and irrepressible spirit continue to inspire the Geiger family company. Peter said, “My father moved from New Jersey to Lewiston in 1955. He had a love affair with Maine. He liked the family friendly environment, the work force, and work ethic here. He said, ‘We are going to give back to the community and share the successes with our employees.’ He was talking about profit sharing. This was my father’s commitment from the beginning. At night he talked about his business at the dinner table. He was passionate about everything he did, including being on the Board of Saint Joseph’s College.” Peter followed in his father’s footsteps not only by serving on the Saint Joseph’s College Board of Trustees, but by becoming the seventh Editor of the Farmers’ Almanac (founded in 1812).
“The Farmers’ Almanac was my father’s great love,” Peter said with a smile, “When I was seven, my father told me that no Almanac editor had ever died under the age of 86. That sounded like a good enough reason to me. We just celebrated its 200th anniversary. Two million copies are given away by businesses annually and its social media following counts 1.2 million. The Almanac, by its nature, is about America and doing things well—empowering people to ‘do it yourself,’ and sharing stories on how to grow things (even pineapples in the kitchen) and on the advantages of life before air conditioning and toilet paper.”
Empowering people and “doing things well” undergird all of the projects that Peter Geiger tackles. From sponsoring the Montello Elementary School in Lewiston in the Adopt-a-School program to assisting in the redevelopment of the Bethany Baptist Church School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to supporting the Ray Geiger Endowed Scholarship at Saint Joseph’s College, Peter focuses upon how to build a better, more sustainable future. His philanthropic generosity and his humanistic devotion have garnered numerous honors, including the 618th Point of Light Award, presented to him by former President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Saint Joseph’s College in 2014.
Peter recently visited campus to attend a presentation by students who had traveled to Haiti and Guatemala on Service Trips and to locations around the country on Spring Break Workfest. After listening to several presentations, he stood and shared with the group, “We all have our responsibility—internationally—to make the world a better place. Find your passion because passion moves mountains. It’s what makes a difference in the world. If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”
When Peter returned to campus in May, the College honored him with the 2018 Distinguished Philanthropy Award. This award recognizes the continued, generous philanthropic contributions to Saint Joseph’s College made by businesses and individuals.