Jeff Lee hit the ground running when he joined Grand Rapids State Bank on December 9 as senior vice president-lending. Considering that he has 28 years’ experience making loans and running banks, hitting the ground running really should have been no surprise.
“After I learned how to turn on the computer and find the bathroom, I dove right in,” said Jeff.
Jeff grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, and graduated from Hibbing High School. He worked for his family business, Range Cornice and Roofing, beginning at age 13. He attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a partial baseball scholarship and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing management.
Jeff’s first job was as branch manager for ITT Finance in Minneapolis. After two years he was hired by Marquette Bank for the position of vice president at their Brooklyn Center office where he worked in consumer and small business lending.
Jeff’s career took a turn in 1994 when he was offered a job as bank president for American Bank of the North’s Hibbing office. “I was thrilled to be going back home,” said Jeff. “I wanted my kids to grow up in the same environment I enjoyed when I was growing up.”
After five years at American Bank, Jeff was enticed to go to work as president of Republic Bank in Hibbing, a bank then owned by Jeno Paulucci. Five years later, he was hired away to work as president of Queen City Federal in Virginia, a bank that was acquired shortly afterwards by Frandsen Bank.
Jeff was married to Sheri Vitters in 1988. Sheri works as a business education teacher in the St. Louis County School District in Cherry, Minnesota, a small community 10 miles east of Hibbing on Highway 37. Their daughter, Justine, is a third-year student at Minnesota State University in Mankato, while their son, Jarrett, is a freshman at Hibbing High School.
Jeff and Sheri have been able to maintain some community stability despite Jeff’s changes in job locations. Their home on Island Lake south of Hibbing is prized by their family, so Jeff willingly commutes 30 minutes to work one way each day.
“Jarrett is a member of the Hibbing-Chisholm hockey team, and that team has been a great support system for him,” said Jeff. “Even though Grand Rapids has a great tradition and a good team, Jarrett couldn’t leave his teammates.”
The support Jarrett has received from his team is no small thing. Last March Jarrett was diagnosed with nodular sclerosing Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a daunting prognosis for a 15-year old. Throughout the spring and summer of 2014, Jarrett received extensive cancer treatment. He lost his hair initially, but curiously it has grown back full of curls that he never had before. Throughout this treatment, despite being weakened by the chemotherapy, Jarrett kept up his spirits with the support of friends and family. A year later he is a fixture on the second line of the Bluejackets hockey team. The Make-A-Wish Foundation recently surprised him with a gift of a four-wheeler. This kind of community support makes Jeff appreciate his decision to remain rooted in northern Minnesota.
“I love hunting, fishing, pontoon boating, golf and curling,” said Jeff. “Northern Minnesota is my home. I’ve been fortunate to work at great banks in Hibbing, Virginia and now Grand Rapids.
“I like how busy it is here at Grand Rapids State Bank,” he continued. “People may argue about this, but I think it is hard to find a more vibrant city than Grand Rapids here on the Iron Range. That vibrancy translates to business here at the bank.
“And finally, I am so thankful for how warm and friendly people have been here,” Jeff added. “I was close to the people I worked with at Frandsen, but people at GRSB have welcomed me without hesitation.”
When asked about his being able to work in Grand Rapids while being a Hibbing native, Jeff smiled and acknowledged the hometown rivalry that exists between the athletic teams in both communities. “The color of the letter jackets is important,” said Jeff, “but at the end of the day people on the Range have common values and interests. Grand Rapids State Bank has served this area well, and I look forward to helping this bank as it moves into its second century of service.”