THORP — To know Amanda Geissler was to know kindness.

The late Thorp native and former basketball standout with the Cardinals and at UW-Stout dedicated the later days of her life to philanthropy before she and 11 others died in a plane crash while leaving Costa Rica on Dec. 31, 2017.

While it has been nearly four years since her death, Geissler’s passion for helping others has lived on and grown as some of her dreams have been realized and others continue to manifest through the help of her family and friends.

Making a change

“Ten years ago I started a bucket list. By started, I mean, I began (and will forever continue) to physically write down the epic adventures I’d like to do in my lifetime. As of now, I have 32 written down (8 of which I’ve accomplished.) It’s funny how real things become when you put them in writing.” — Geissler’s This Chick I Know blog post, titled “Is This a Sign?” September 2017

Geissler’s philanthropic awakening started with a mission trip to Ghana, Africa, in 2011 where she volunteered in a kindergarten classroom, a single experience that opened a whole new world for the 2002 Thorp graduate. She saw the need for educational resources and what greater access to education could have, especially for women and children. Her trip to Ghana came while she was working in the pharmaceutical world, but soon Geissler embarked on a much different path.

She traveled the world and broadened her horizons, throwing everything in a backpack. She traveled to South America and stayed in hostels, earning money teaching English to locals. Never afraid to meet someone new or learning something new, she went as far as to compete in an Ironman competition and in the Great Wall of China Marathon. As a nonresident of China, Geissler had to tour the area to learn of the surroundings. She jumped in with a tour group from Great Britain, seeing it as another chance to absorb another new culture.

“I don’t know where she got that from,” Amanda’s mother, Cheryl, said of her daughter’s outgoing nature. “She just loved learning about people and she was just awesome.”

Ultimately, Geissler worked as a tour guide for Backroads, a travel company specializing in unique travel experiences. Geissler had the chance to share excursions with families by sailing the Adriatic Sea, walking El Camino de Santiago through Portugal and Spain, and hiking, biking and white-water rafting in Costa Rica. She documented all her travels online with a WordPress Blog, with her sister Lindsey writing several passages after Amanda’s passing.

“We heard from a lot of people who were on trips with her and they had nothing but stellar things (to say), just how she made their trip so enjoyable,” Cheryl said.

The book “The Promise of a Pencil” by author Adam Braun had a great impact on Geissler’s life. The book is about how one person can create extraordinary change, just as Braun did in helping to build hundreds of schools for those in need.

After Geissler’s death, her family and friends started The Amanda Geissler Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping others.

Before the plane crash, Geissler created a running bucket list of many ambitious goals such as running a marathon on the Great Wall of China, traveling to Hong Kong and Greece, and starting a new charity. Her family and friends helped her achieve one of her goals (No. 25) by creating the foundation.

The foundation partnered with Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit organization, to help build schools in areas in need. Family members also read “The Promise of a Pencil” and chose Ghana as the site for their school-building endeavor because of Geissler’s connection to the region. The foundation raised $100,000 for the project, which helped build two one-story schools that opened earlier this year, including the first on Jan. 14 — three years to the day after her Celebration of Life event in Chippewa Falls.

Closer to home

“When I think about creating a life that I seek to live, I think of days filled with passion and awe. I think of love and contentment. I think of not having to justify one second of this life I chose.” — Geissler blog post, titled “Create Your Surrender,” May 2017

Amanda was a standout on the basketball court during her playing days with both Thorp and at UW-Stout. As a Cardinal, Geissler helped lead the program to state for the first time as Thorp advanced to the Division 4 semifinals in 2002 with her father, Jeff, as head coach and Amanda’s younger sister Lindsey also as a key player. Amanda averaged 9.8 points per game her senior season and set a Thorp record for assists in a season in earning first team All-Eastern Cloverbelt Conference accolades.

Amanda and Thorp teammate Rachel Prokopiak were selected to play in that year’s Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game before Geissler went on to star collegiately with the Blue Devils. Geissler played in 112 games for UW-Stout and was a two-time team captain, reuniting on the court with her sister Lindsey at the college level in helping the program win three WIAC conference championships during her time in Menomonie. She is tied for the school record for most assists in a game (11) and is sixth all-time in career games played.

The Amanda Geissler Memorial Foundation has also given back closer to home. In 2020 the nonprofit donated $500 to food pantries in Thorp, Stanley, Cornell and Cadott, working with Feed My People Food Bank to help those in need. A scholarship in Thorp has been established in her name. The Geissler scholarship recognizes one female honoree for their commitment to academics, athletics and community involvement. The family has also said they are in discussions with UW-Stout officials about creating a scholarship in Geissler’s name in the science or math field.

Make it happen

“You see, in the end, it’s not what we can see that makes a place beautiful, it’s how we feel when we were there. Those feelings are only obtained by the people. People are what give travel and life its actual beauty.” — Geissler blog post, titled “Vietnam Vibes,” November 2017

With the foundation’s first large project completed, it is now looking at the future.

The goal is to set up a yearly budget of $10,000 that can be donated toward worthy causes. Amanda was big into volunteering at homeless and abuse shelters and family members said the foundation is looking into donating to those kinds of organizations locally. They’re hoping to have some way to help locally and internationally every year.

“You can’t do everything, but you can do a little bit of something and that little bit of something can go a long ways,” Jeff said.

The foundation is also seeking ideas for projects and can be contacted at AmandaGeisslerFoundation.com.

Amanda’s life ended far too soon, but had a worldwide impact — an impact her family and friends are making sure continues for many years to come.

“She just made everybody feel, like, so important and that they were of value to the world and that their stories were important,” Cheryl said. “She just had a way. She always did.”