A family built on the trades
Len Treeter and Laurie Anfindsen
Noted entrepreneurs and philanthropists
Grateful for each other. For family. For friends. And, yes, grateful for the many opportunities that have enabled them to create a rich and prosperous life together. And on a quiet Edmonton morning at their Valleyview Point home, Len Treeter and Laurie Anfindsen—this year’s recipients of the Distinguished Friend of the Institute Award and members of the President's Society—say they’re also grateful they’ve gotten so involved with NAIT.
“Our families have a history of working in the trades and many are talented with working with their hands,” explains Laurie. Len graduated in carpentry at NAIT in 1974 and served on the advisory board of carpentry for four years. Their middle daughter of three children, Montanna, graduated from NAIT’s business program in 2009.
Laurie has been involved with NAIT’s culinary program for many years, and supports Culinary Team Canada, Culinary Team Alberta and Culinary Team NAIT—perhaps not that surprising, given Laurie’s love of wine and her membership in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, an international association of gastronomy, since 1996. She’s also been a chapter master of Amici dell’Enotria since 2004. Laurie twice served as Chairperson for the culinary “Evening with the Masters”, members and hosts of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. In 2014, the family, with the generosity of some of their very special friends, established a bursary to support NAIT students in the Woodworking program.
All of that generosity wouldn’t have been possible, however, without a little luck, hard work and a knack for working with great people. After Len graduated, he apprenticed with Lorne Anfindsen, Laurie’s father, who was a carpenter and grew a construction company specializing in disaster restoration into a very successful operation, a company called AltaPro Cleaning and Disaster Restoration. Laurie was also at the company until 1988.
In the same year, the two partners established their own home building company, doing major renovations and providing home inspection services. Len was the Chief Operating Officer and Laurie was the Chief Executive Officer. Laurie had acquired her business acumen at her mother’s side; long-time Edmontonians will remember Anne’s Canadiana Galleries that operated from 1960 on Jasper Avenue for many years.
But Len’s real brilliant business stroke came one day when he realized that there was a market in the homebuilding industry for using medium-density fibreboard (MDF) as moulding. “We went at it hard,” he explains, establishing a manufacturing plant that scaled up production from a few hundred board feet to millions for markets around the world. Dartree Group Inc. was born. At its peak, the plant employed 154 people and produced 500,000 linear feet a day.
Reflecting on those early successes, business associate Nolan Crouse explains: “Dartree owned and operated a high quality operation that served a niche market in the wood finishing industry and served customers in an extraordinary way. The company that I was managing was a key supplier for them. Len and Laurie approached us and suggested that we form an agreement whereby we grew together; we grew our sales and they grew their production. Within weeks, with not much more than a handshake, we were growing at a remarkable rate together with them.”
President of Castertown, Sidney Hanson, adds: “Len was remarkably successful in business. His visions for business, transforming ideas into successful ventures are a testament to a remarkable student of industry.”
In 1998, the two business partners accepted an offer to purchase their plant. Len admits at that time, “I hardly knew my three children. Our son was already eight.” Technically “retired” at 43, Len soon accepted a contract to design and build a large MDF mouldings facility in Georgia. And he got involved in business ventures with Indonesian and Malaysian companies.
“I needed something to settle me down and reassure Laurie that I was home to stay,” he says. Woodchucks, therefore, was established in 2002, a fully equipped mouldings production facility Len describes as “a place I could just play.” All of their children, Mercedes, Montanna and Layne, spent time working in the plant for their parents.
“They always had time for me, my family and their workers,” Crouse, now the mayor of St. Albert, says, pointing out a key business value the couple have employed throughout their business lives. “The truck drivers were important, their customers were important, their suppliers were important, their employees were important. They were complete business people.”
Business wasn’t—and hasn’t been—their only pursuit. They’ve been patrons of the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Ballet, the Opera, and the Citadel Theatre, among others. On May 14, Laurie and Len partnered in a fundraiser for Culinary Team NAIT to support the team in the Culinary Olympics in Germany in 2016. Laurie was the chairperson/auction spotter and Len was the auctioneer/centrepiece builder. They raised $78,000.
They love cars and speed. Len has drag raced locally at Speedway International and at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterrey, California. He has driven a totally rebuilt 1960 Chevy Impala in the International Endurance Rally in 2013, travelling from Beijing to Paris. That experience, he says, was a game changer: I realized it was time to enjoy more and work less.
“Len was so pumped by his experience that he signed us up to drive the 2015 Road to Mandalay—Singapore to Myanmar,” recalls Laurie. “At first it was pretty scary but we had a blast with Len navigating and me behind the wheel. We had incredible experiences and met wonderful people from around the world.” Next November Len and son Layne plan to travel to South America for the Endurance Rally of the Incas.
“Len is a man of adventure,” says Hanson, “so to be part of Len’s world is to love life as does Len. He drew his sense of adventure from his father, who was often known to board a freighter in some foreign port, not in the luxury of a cruise ship, but in the crew’s quarters, and simply sailed along to wherever the freighter was bound. So it is true for Len. Many of his adventures were not the goal, but rather the simple enjoyment of the journey.”
They certainly embrace adventure, says longtime friend, Barb Cockrall, the 2001 recipient of the Distinguished Friend of the Institute Award. “One dictionary meaning for ‘partner’ is “one who dances with the other” and they do that very well, both figuratively and literally. They virtually do everything together—work, businesses, lunches. And they’ve raised three wonderful children.”
“We both love good food, wine, fine automobiles and driving, travelling to different parts of Canada and around the world,” says Laurie. “We’ve spent many wonderful ski holidays with our children.”
Today, the couple can gaze over the valley and still see vast potential. Len grew up in Parkview and still lives there. He played hockey on the local Parkview team. Laurie recalls her high school years, working at the old Woodward’s store at Southgate. She worked in the stationary/hosier department. Laurie, a descendant of Norwegian immigrants, and Len, a descendant of German immigrants—baby boomers at the right place in the right time—don’t really know what lies ahead.
But they do know that it will involve adventure, support for students, the arts and their community—one that’s enabled them to live this rich and prosperous life together.