SDSU dairy alumnus transforms the dairy industry in Alaska

SDSU College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences
Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — South Dakota State University alumnus, Joe Van Treeck, had an illustrious career in the dairy industry and has contributed to the future success of SDSU students by funding a scholarship for 30 years. His contributions to SDSU and the dairy industry have made a lasting impact.

Van Treeck graduated from SDSU in 1980 with a dairy manufacturing degree. He was recruited to attend SDSU as a non-traditional student by Shirley Seas, past dairy plant manager, while working at a butter creamery in Rapid City, S.D.

Previous to that, Van Treeck had no background in the dairy industry, growing up north of Chicago. He attended Black Hills State University to play football but decided not to finish his education there and instead went to work in Rapid City at a creamery. While at BHSU, Van Treeck met his wife Mary. Van Treeck and Mary had two children when they decided to make the move to SDSU for Van Treeck to pursue a degree in dairy manufacturing in 1978.

While at SDSU, Van Treeck was a student foreman in the SDSU Dairy Plant. He made a historic contribution to SDSU as one of two student inventors of the legendary cookies-and-cream ice cream. The other student inventor was Joe Leedom and they were under the supervision of Professor Shirley Seas.

He was also a member of the Dairy Club and the Dairy Products Judging Team.

“Many of my friendships in the industry today were formed when I was involved in Dairy Club as a student,” said Van Treeck.

He was a contestant for the 1980 SDSU Dairy Products Judging Team and was All Products Champion at the Chicago Regional Competition where the team took top honors. The team placed second at the national competition held in Portland, Ore., that year. Later, he served for ten years as a milk judge for the National Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation contest.

“Judging was important because I had a knack for the products,” explained Van Treeck. “I ended up working in the fluid milk business, so judging paid off from a quality control standpoint.”

Van Treeck received scholarship support as a student that helped him significantly and he was very encouraged that there were people supporting him, so he decided he wanted to provide the same kind of assistance to a student someday. Van Treeck and Mary have now been funding a scholarship for an SDSU student pursuing a degree in dairy for more than 30 years.

Following graduation, Van Treeck worked for Milnot Corp. in Seneca, Mo., producing canned-evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and butter. He held multiple positions beginning as laboratory manager with successive promotions to plant superintendent.

After working at Milnot Corp. for five years, Van Treeck was hired as the plant manager of Matanuska Maid Dairy in Anchorage, Alaska in 1985. The Matanuska Maid Dairy was a fluid milk, juice and cultured product processing operation.

Alaska’s unique West Coast location provided the opportunity to export goods and services and for expansion of market area for Matanuska Maid and other Alaskan-based companies. In support of the business community, the University of Alaska launched the Business-Global Logistics and Supply Chain Management program. Van Treeck seized the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in this field while working at Matanuska Maid Dairy to gain a better understanding of how to do business on a global scale. He graduated from the University of Alaska in 2002.

“I worked to turn the Matanuska Maid Dairy around by doing cutting-edge things. We became the second dairy in the country to make yogurt with artificial sweetener and the first dairy to own and manufacture PET plastic bottles for bottling milk, juice and water,” Van Treeck explained.

He went on to serve more than 20 years as president/CEO and general manager, becoming the company’s longest tenured senior executive. The 71-year-old company ceased operation in late 2007.

Following the closing of Matanuska Maid Dairy, he served as general manager for Anchorage operations for Advanced Supply Chain International. The company provides third-party supply chain, logistics, procurement and maintenance optimization solutions to clients in asset-intensive industries, predominantly the natural resource extractive industries of petroleum and mining.

Van Treeck recently retired as CEO of Alaska Glacier Products, LLC in Anchorage, a position he held since 2011. It is Alaska’s number one small package bottler of Alaskan glacier sourced water from the Eklutna Glacier.

Van Treeck also owned JVT Consulting, a management consultancy providing organizational development, strategic planning, budget creation, procurement, supply chain and logistics solutions primarily for small and start-up food and beverage clientele.

In retrospect, Van Treeck credits much of his success to his education and experiences at SDSU, as well as mentors in his life who provided guidance along the way and his wife who provided encouragement and support.

“Things didn’t happen this way because of me, I got where I am because of people mentoring and supporting me,” Van Treeck said. “I feel very fortunate to have attended SDSU because my experiences and education helped me significantly throughout my entire career.”

Joe and Mary Van Treeck travelled to Brookings from Alaska this spring to award their scholarship to dairy manufacturing major, Daniel Domenichini, at the annual scholarship banquet. Courtesy photo