State potato pioneer Geisert dies at 81

KENNEWICK — Otto Geisert Jr., an entrepreneur and one of the pioneers of the Washington potato industry, died at his home in Kennewick on Sunday. He was 81.

Geisert was the longtime president of Balcom and Moe, served as president of the Washington State Potato Commission, was instrumental in helping start the Ben Franklin and Columbia Trust Banks and was involved in the development of Meadow Springs Country Club and the Tri-City Court Club, according to information from the Washington State Potato Foundation.

"Otto was a great man," said Jared Balcom, president of Balcom and Moe. "He was very outgoing, and he had a loving personality. He was always gregarious, always personable."

In 2008, Geisert received the Washington State Potato Foundation's Industry Leadership Award in recognition of his service to the industry and agriculture, and a scholarship fund was established in his name.

"Otto was one of the pioneers and great leaders in the potato industry," said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission.

Geisert was born in 1928 in Seattle. He dropped out of law school at his beloved University of Washington after marrying Marnie Moe and went to work for Balcom and Moe in 1957, running the company's Grandview operation until it moved to Pasco in 1964.

The company soon sold fresh potatoes under the label Big Chief and blossomed under the leadership of Geisert, who brought a business vision to the company and agriculture, Jared Balcom said.

He also grew wine grapes and bottled them under the Quarry Lake and Balcom and Moe labels. He also served on a variety of community boards.

Geisert also served on the Washington State Potato Commission from 1968-76. In 1979, he invested in a piggyback rail car program that improved the efficiency of shipping potatoes, Balcom said.

He retired in 1998 and with Marnie traveled the world. She died in 2006. The couple have three daughters.