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2015 Citizen of the Year: Zac Karpf dedicated to serving community
January 01, 2016 Frank Marquez   

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Zac Karpf

Most kids don’t get out of bed one day knowing what they want to be when they grow up, much less knowing if anything they do in life will amount to much.

For most of our local leaders or more specifically, doers in our community, there’s little chance they will earn the Nobel Peace Prize and be pictured smiling at the world from the cover of Time magazine.

Though taking nothing away from a year’s work, our valley’s public figures may well make as much of a lasting impact as someone who wins the Nobel. If not the face of an event, they’re more likely the driving force in the community, or a hero behind the scenes. Without them, grants don’t get written, volunteers don’t gather, kids don’t get to play on giant tree stumps, and state governors don’t visit those same kids during the first week of school.

Such was the case for this year’s Citizen of the Year, Platte Valley Companies executive Zac Karpf who spent numerous hours of his own time leading the charge in improving Northfield Elementary School’s playground most of the past summer.

There were others deserving of the honor, but none who remained consistently involved in community affairs.

Aside from being a volunteer for Gering Public Schools, Zac is a fundraiser coordinator for the capital campaign and a board member for the Scottsbluff YMCA, and the President of the Northfield Elementary School Booster Club. He is also chairman of the Quivey Bay State Foundation benefitting charitable causes, a board member the Scottsbluff-Gering Chamber of Commerce, a member of Rotary Club, and a driving force for the Western Nebraska Community College Foundation.

Professionally, Zac was named the Chief Operating Officer five years ago for the bank’s $500 million dollar Nebraska operation. He’s also a co-Chief Operating Officer of the bank’s holding company, which covers bank charters in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado. He is also a member of the Nebraska Bankers Association.

A deeply Christian man, Zac dotes on his family. He and his wife Cristina and sons Mark and David enjoy reading, movies, camping, and eating.

Zac solidified his passion and built on his character by formally studying business. Zac earned a bachelor’s and a master’s both in business administration from the University of Nebraska. Zac attended as a Regent Scholar and earned both degrees in a matter of four and half years while working at the library.

Career wise, Zac started in the banking business at the age of 16.

“He wanted to work in the bank when he was in junior high when we owned the bank in Morrill,” said Chuck Karpf, manager of Nebraska Rural Community Federal Credit Union in Morrill. “So, he started working when he was a freshman, which was the first year he lived out here (west Nebraska). Zac is the first one of my family to graduate from Morrill High School. He is the fifth generation of my family to live out here.”

Zac comes from a long line of businessmen, primarily bankers. Chuck’s great grandfather Charles Karpf, who homesteaded north of Mitchell in 1906, worked as a butcher and opened a grocery store in Mitchell.

Chuck’s grandfather and Zac’s great-grandfather Henry Charles Karpf worked at First National Bank of Mitchell in the spring of 1907 at his first job. According to Chuck, he was 15-years old and went as far as the eighth grade. He eventually retired as the vice chairman of the board of Omaha National Bank, but stayed in banking his entire life until he passed away in 1973.

“Zac was just interested,” Chuck said. “He just liked to hang out at the bank. He’d go back in the backroom and talk to the people. Working back there, he’d try to figure out what they were doing. He had a lot of opportunities for other work, but he knew he wanted to come back out here and go to work.”

After returning to west Nebraska, Zac went to work for Platte Valley Companies near the start of the new millennium and has worked there for the past 15 years.

Chairman, CEO and President of Platte Valley Companies Hod Kosman gave some insight into his and Zac’s banking lineage.

“Zac’s great-grandfather and my grandfather were both bankers in this valley in the early 1900s. My father and Zac’s grandfather were good friends in their friendly competition in banking,” said Kosman, whose family acquired the Karpf family bank 20 years ago.

“Everyone recognized Zac’s talents,” Kosman said. “When he went off to college, we asked him to come back. He finished his graduate degree 15 years ago and came back to work with us. Banking is certainly in his blood and we’re happy about that.”

Kosman added, “Zac was an instrumental part of the negotiating team when we acquired five banks in 2014. He’s a solid thinker who’s also good with numbers. He’s a get-it-done kind of guy. If you have a project to benefit the community, he’s part of it and it gets done well. It’s a huge value to the community to have the kind of leadership that Zac exhibits. (Being named Citizen of the Year) is an exceptional honor to an exceptional individual. Everyone will recognize him as the right choice.”

Amy Siler, a Community Forestry Specialist in western Nebraska for the Nebraska Forest Service, has known Zac for at least 10 years. She and Zac are members of the Northfield Elementary School Booster Club, and both were heavily involved in overhauling the school’s playground.

“Zac’s our club president and he knew the playground needed improvements,” Siler said. “The school had also been talking about improvements, so it was good connection.”

Siler relied on her background in landscape design, supervising the look of the playground, while Zac oversaw the entire project, from fundraising to lining up volunteer help and calling for publicity.

“Zac truly has a total servant’s heart,” Siler said. “He sees things that need to get done and he’s very good at organizing and getting people involved in the area of their strengths.”

Siler said Zac sought out a number of people with different talents, and brought them together for the project. He also pushed students to raise funds for the project, sought input from teachers so the finished product would meet their approval, and of course, he rounded up volunteers. He made enough noise to draw Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts to visit for the ribbon cutting ceremony on the first day of school in September.

“Zac took a lot of his own vacation days this past summer just to work on the playground,” Siler said. “He’s very committed and detail-oriented, which I really appreciated because this was a big project which encompassed the entire playground.”

Siler said she and Zac grew up in Morrill. Their boys were involved in scouting together. During the playground project, she came to appreciate his leadership skills even more. “He’s just a great leader and I can’t imagine someone who’s more deserving of this award. He’s someone who wants to serve his community and we’re fortunate to have him,” she said.

Serving the community is perhaps one of the things Zac holds high in terms of keeping values and expressing invariable kindness, much the way his banking grandfather did.

Chuck related a story about how, when the banking industry employed trusting principles and practices, and when folks didn’t need paper to enforce their words, Zac’s grandfather was a “hand-shake banker. If he knew you, and you paid your debts, you’d get anything you’d want,” he said. “Last spring, a lady came up to me; she wanted to tell me that when she was pregnant with one of her children, they had a terrible time. (The family) didn’t even bank with dad. Dad came out to see them with a check. If you need money, you write a check, and I’ll see it clears our bank. That’s the way he was. I still have people come up to me and tell me about kindnesses that he extended, that weren’t normal banking practices. It’s a hell of a reputation to live up to.”

It’s the kind of community Chuck believes in, and that is something he has obviously instilled in Zac.

“One of the things that people at this end of the world don’t realize is how lucky the communities are that we still have three locally owned banks. You got PVC, Valley Bank, and First State. All three of those banks do a tremendous job of helping to support the community,” he said. “One of the things I’ve done since I left banking, is spend time in rural economic development because I believe in the smaller communities, and the smaller businesses. Some of that, or a lot of that has rubbed off on Zac. You can see that because of what he’s involved in. When he was working on the Northfield project, he even talked me and my wife Margy into putting some days in.”

A proud father, Chuck added, “He gives back; he understands the importance of giving back to the community, and not just financially, but with time. I’d like to think part of that is because he had good examples to follow – his dad, and his grandpas.”

Near the end of the interview, Chuck showed a photo of four generations of Karpfs, which included his father, Zac and one of Zac’s sons. Chuck said, “We’ve been very, very fortunate.”
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