ABERDEEN, S.D. - It was winter 2017. The nights in Aberdeen were beginning to grow long, a frosty chill was settling in the air. And Steve Geidt could not see the Christmas lights.
He was a patient on the third floor of Avera St. Luke’s Hospital, waging a long war against mouth cancer that had plagued him for six years.
What Geidt could see from his window was the Purina Mills elevator, a structure operated by the company he built more than half his life around.
Geidt had started selling Purina feed in Groton nearly 40 years ago before he opened and became president of Livestock Specialists Inc., the company that owns and uses the Purina mill.
Jim Fetherhuff, mill manger, and Keith Jensen, also a mill employee, decided to take action while Geidt was in the hospital last year. They installed a 14-foot tree on top of the elevator that was visible throughout much of Aberdeen, and, most importantly, from Geidt’s room.
“We wanted to get it done as soon as we possibly could,” said Tim Cavalier, retailer manager at Livestock Specialists. “(Geidt) was very involved in his community. By doing this, we were showing him we’re still giving back to our community.”
For years, a large tree adorned the top of the elevator. But it had to be removed in order to replace old equipment. According to Fetherhuff, the plan was always to replace the tree with one that was better and brighter, but nobody made time for that project until last year.
The tree could arguably be the tallest one in town, except for one important matter — it’s not a tree. The tree-shaped structure is composed of a steel pipe up through the center, plastic conduit and a steel base. Lights are strung from the top of the pipe all the way down to the bottom to create the shape of a tree.
Because it's so tall, all of the materials had to be carried up to the top of the elevator, where Fetherhuff and Jensen constructed the whole thing with the help of a winch and rope.
“When you’re all the way up there, it’s hard to control,” Fetherhuff said.
The process took nearly an entire day, but the outcome was worth it.
“Steve loved it,” Cavalier said.
His birthday was right before Christmas, so the holidays were special to him, Geidt’s son Heath Geidt said.
Steve Geidt died Sept. 25 at age 63, but his leadership lives on in his son, who has since taken up the Purina mantle.
According to Cavalier, the lighted tree is a tradition Purina hopes to keep for years to come.
“It’s not going to come down,” he said. “We’re going to keep adding lights to make it even better. It’s a piece that we’re proud of, and we know Steve would be proud, too.”