This article was originally published on People of Saltchuk on June 11, 2018
Delta Western Safety Director Leon Dwiggins and Carlile Senior Project Manager Christen Van Treeck are always ready for the next adventure.
By Hilary Reeves
Leon Dwiggins and Christen Van Treeck could have been high school sweethearts.
“We actually met right out of high school,” Dwiggins explained, “and I knew she was the one. We dated for about eight years before we got married. We’ve been together 24 years, married for almost 16.”
Both Dwiggins, Safety Director at Delta Western/NorthStar Energy, and Van Treeck, Senior Project Manager at Carlile Transportation, attended Dimond High School in Anchorage after moving to Alaska as children. Dwiggins was born in San Diego, but was quickly whisked back to his parents’ home state. Van Treeck was born in South Dakota, but spent much of her early childhood in Missouri.
“We lived in Missouri until 1985 when my dad accepted a job in Alaska running Matanuska Maid Dairy – one of Carlile’s first customers,” said Van Treeck. “When people ask me about my childhood, I always tell them that I came from the ultimate “Beaver Cleaver” family: mom, dad, brother, and cat. My parents have been married for 46 years, and my dad still calls my mom his ‘bride.’”
Prior to graduating high school, Van Treeck began searching for a summer job.
“My brother was already working at Carlile, so I mailed my resume to Harry McDonald. I started at Carlile a week before my high school graduation, and I worked full-time while putting myself through college at the University of Alaska Anchorage.”
Van Treeck eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Global Logistics Management. But growing up, her dream was to own a Chevrolet dealership.
“I’ve always loved cars from a young age,” she said. “My friends in high school always laughed at me because my favorite pastime was washing and waxing my car.”
Meanwhile, sports were Dwiggins passion growing up. He held state records in track and football.
“I learned at a young age that I needed to work hard to get the things I wanted out of life,” he said.
Dwiggins spent much of his childhood outdoors, “snow-machining,” teaching children to ski as a high school ski instructor, and fishing at his grandparents’ cabin in Kenai. He grew up wanting to be a teacher and a coach.
“I have three adopted younger brothers, so a lot of my teenage years were spent taking care of them while my parents worked.”
“Safety doesn’t have a ‘typical’ day”
After high school, Dwiggins worked road construction in the summer and at VECO (now Jacobs) in the winter. He said his early years working as a laborer led to a passion for safety.
“I personally experienced some very unsafe situations at other companies I’d worked for, and I decided that if I could be in a safety role, I could be proactive and prevent coworkers from having injuries or incidents,” he explained.
One of his greatest challenges, he said, is the fact that if someone gets hurt on the job in a remote location, he can’t always be there.
“Safety doesn’t have a ‘typical’ day,” he said. “We work through daily challenges on a variety of different issues ranging from hazard recognition, near misses, employee concerns and suggestions, to special projects. Dealing with Alaska’s increment weather conditions is always a challenge.”
Van Treeck has spent the past 23 years in the transportation industry.
“When I started working at Carlile just before I graduated high school, we were a small office building on Ship Avenue, and I was a file clerk.”
She transitioned to billing clerk, then billing supervisor while in college. After graduation, she said she wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her degree.
“As luck should have it, about six months after I graduated, Carlile was awarded an all-encompassing transportation and logistics contract that required a single point of contact to manage the customers’ day-to-day logistical needs; at that time, I was promoted to Senior Logistics Manager. That role, and the Alaska Logistics department, gradually grew over time.”
Van Treeck’s greatest challenge in her new role was earning the respect of the company’s Prudhoe Bay customers.
“I remember the first time I had to call a field manager and report that we couldn’t find a valve,” she said. “I told the customer they’d have to file a claim and reorder – only to be angrily told that the specialized valve had a 12 week lead time, and that they had to shut down in two weeks so, ‘figure it out!’ We found the valve and delivered it just in time, but that first year for me was a tough one. I learned a lot, and as I gained the respect of those customers, the barriers came down and they knew they could count on me to do what I said I was going to do.”
In her current role, Van Treeck is working on a project that allows the company’s dispatchers to send load offers to drivers digitally.
“This allows our drivers to have their dispatches at their fingertips, reducing phone interaction an offering real-time information flow.”
Fostering strong relationships
Working for companies under the same corporate umbrella, Dwiggins and Van Treeck often cross paths – most often at industry events, according to Van Treeck.
“Anytime Leon has the opportunity to refer someone to Carlile, he does, and tells them to ‘call Christen Van Treeck – she’ll take care of you.’ He’s a pretty good unpaid salesman for Carlile,” she laughed.
And for Delta Western.
“Delta Western is one of the premier fuel and lubrication companies in Alaska,” he said. “We work long hours in very adverse conditions. We work safely in remote, isolated locations, and we have a culture built around safety, supported and backed up by the fact that we are one of Saltchuk’s safest performers according to safety statistics. This accomplishment by our team brings me much pride, and that’s what I’d like the public to know about our company.”
In terms of his personal journey, Dwiggins said he wishes he would’ve learned sooner to channel his passion.
“I give 110 percent to everything I do,” he explained, “whether it’s personal or professional. I’ve had to learn how to channel those passions so I don’t come off as ‘in your face’ or ‘aggressive.’ It’s been a process, but over the years I’ve been able to communicate better by changing my delivery, and listening more thoroughly. I’m much more open and understanding of the needs of others.”
Van Treeck is most proud of the fact that she’s always stood by her personal and professional morals and ethics.
“Early on in my career, I learned quickly that being open and honest is key when building and sustaining relationships with customers,” she said. “Delivering bad news isn’t easy, but if you’re honest with your customers and provide solutions when problems arise, that’s paramount in fostering strong relationships.”
Like Van Treeck at Carlile, Dwiggins hopes to continue his career at Delta Western.
“I take a lot of pride in and am passionate about what I do, and I want to become the Vice President of Safety for Delta Western/NorthStar Energy.”
The couple enjoys traveling – their favorite vacation spot is Hawaii – and working at home in Anchorage (Dwiggins, on the “greenest yard in the neighborhood,” and Van Treeck, washing and waxing cars in the garage), and hours north of Anchorage at their cabin, accessible only by snowmachine in the winter and four-wheeler in the summer.
“We built the cabin from the ground up with the help of some great friends,” she said. “It’s been a labor of love and a lot of hard work; when you don’t have road access, everything becomes a logistical challenge. The cabin offers us a place to go and disconnect, and just get back to the basics. It’s a pretty humbling experience to live and work in such a beautiful place. I always say people pay thousands of dollars to come see the things that are just in our back yard, and that’s pretty neat.”
“Words that I live by: live life to the fullest, because you may not be here tomorrow,” Dwiggins concluded.