Trembley fills manager shoes at the light plant

By Michelle Van Hee, Editor/Owner, Madelia Times-Messenger; Published 6-19-19 in the Madelia Times-Messenger; TM photo

He did not grow up in Madelia and he does not reside here now, yet becoming the new manager of the Madelia Municipal Light Plant (MMLP) feels like coming home for Chris Trembley.

Trembley did reside in Madelia from 2002 to 2012 and the connections he made here are still important relationships to him today. At the time, he was a single father raising two sons and the community felt safe and welcoming for them all.

Trembley grew up in Fairmont and graduated from high school in 1988. As a youth, he did not have a whole lot of guidance or money. When he was 12 years old, Trembley’s father died in his arms of sudden cardiac arrest.

“That was a huge moment in my life,” Trembley said of losing his father.

Boxing, hunting and fishing were all sports that father and son loved and bonded over. His dad had a “tough guy” persona; he owned a bar in Fairmont for years and Trembley heard that his dad could, if he had to, toss someone out the door.

Yet, people have told Trembley so many great things about the kind of person his father was. That made an impact on him and he has always wanted to make his dad proud.

Everything changed for Trembley after his father died; he lived with different relatives off and on until his godparents gave him a home and a family. They offered him the love, stability and warmth he had been needing.

“My godparents took me in and gave me direction and confidence to be who I wanted to be; they told me to be happy,” he said. “They are wonderful people and I would not be who I am or where I am without them.”

After graduation, Trembley considered going to college and playing football, but instead enlisted in the Marine Corps. “It is the best thing I ever did,” he stated.

The experience of being in the Marines – the camaraderie, the sense of purpose and mission, plus getting out of Fairmont and seeing the world was very refreshing and life changing for him. He was a combat engineer and was deployed overseas during Desert Storm.

“I am a Marine. My mentality is a result of that, my leadership skills are a result of that. I feel confident that it is one of the reasons they hired me,” Trembley said of his new career with MMLP.

“After being in the Marine Corps you never have to ask yourself if you made a difference in the world. That is what the Marine Corps does and that mindset is what propelled me to my successes in life.”

The strong patriotism in the community is one of the things that Trembley loves about Madelia. And that there are so many other veterans here, many of whom he has worked and served with in some capacity or other. He was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1992, but he missed it after about six months so he joined the Army National Guard and was based out of Fairmont.

He actually did decide to attend college in 1998; he went to Minnesota West Community & Technical College in Jackson and earned a degree in Telecommunications. That is where he met Justin Grev from Madelia and they became friends; Justin’s mom, Karla, even invited Trembley to spend Thanksgiving with their family.

He worked for Hickory Tech, along with Grev, for two years before taking a position serving dual status in the Minnesota National Guard and as a federal employee at Field Maintenance Shop Number 6 in New Ulm. After serving 20 years in the military, Trembley decided to retire and pursue a career on the civilian side.

He worked for Gappa Electric in Madelia for a couple of years and is still good friends with the family. His background is in telecommunications, so when he saw there was an opening for a safety consultant with the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, he decided to give that a shot and was hired by Brent Christensen.

Trembley says he owes Christensen a lifetime of gratitude for presenting him with opportunities working at MTA that have been so beneficial in his life. Christensen gave Trembley an opportunity to hone his public speaking skills and the job really helped him relate and communicate more effectively with people.

“I love meeting people, talking to people and getting to know them better; being part of a mission and having a purpose,” explained Trembley. His two years with MTA provided all that and more.

It was during that time that Trembley remarried and his wife, Bethany, was driving to work in Mankato. Trembley could be based out of anywhere for his job, so they moved from Madelia to Mankato in order to lessen her commute.

He has such great praise for Bethany and credits her for not only keeping him in line, but Trembley said his wife has also helped widen his vision and been good at giving him a different perspective. He said she makes him a better person and is his biggest supporter, other than their black lab, Thor.

“I am not anyone special, but I just want to try to do good things in the world,” Trembley stated. “I want to be the person in life that my dog thinks I am. I saw that quote one day and it is so true,” he added with a laugh.

One day, a commissioner at Hutchinson Public Utilities mentioned that Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association (MMUA) had a safety coordinator position open and thought Trembley might be a good fit for the job. Trembley likes growth and new opportunities, so he threw his name in the ring for the job and got it.

Of the 10 locations he covered, Madelia was one of them. He was very happy to still come to Madelia on a regular basis; it is a place he has missed since moving away and Trembley remains grateful for the time he lived here and the good friends he still has here.

“There is just something unique and cool about this town,” he said.

For the last six years being the safety coordinator with MMUA, he got to know the crew at MMLP and appreciated and respected them all for their teamwork, commitment to excellence, dedication to the community and that they always strive to be the best they can be.

Back in 2016, Jim Maras, who was at the time the manager of MMLP, approached Trembley at a conference and said he was going to be retiring in a couple of years and thought Trembley would make a good manager for the light plant in Madelia.

Les Sem, as well as some other employees at MMLP, also mentioned to Trembley that they would root for him if he were to apply for the job when Maras retired.

“That got my wheels turning a bit and got me thinking where I was going next,” Trembley said. “Jim is someone I respect and I was honored that he thought of me to replace him. Les is someone I also admire and respect; he is very smart, forgets nothing, and knows so much about the plant. To get that support from them meant a lot.”

“If this same opportunity had presented itself in some other community, there would not have been much interest from me,” said Trembley. “But Madelia is special and the people here are too. Especially seeing how the town recovered after the fire – the way everyone pulled together – how can you not want to be part of something like that even in some small way? If I can have an impact on or give back to Madelia in some way the inspiration I have gotten being part of the community, then I want to do that. It seemed like a perfect fit.”

So, in January of 2019, Trembley was indeed named as the new manager at MMLP and worked with and learned from Maras for several months before Maras retired. Time that Trembley sincerely appreciated.

He also loves the history of the plant. Trembley understands that the historical building and the work they do are cornerstones of the community; Trembley also knows that being only the fifth manager, he has big shoes to fill.

“Power first flowed through two diesel engines out of this plant on Dec 29, 1939. From what I understand, it was controversial when it was built, but you look at what it is now and that is part of the reason it is so inspiring to be part of it,” he said.

He has immense respect for those who have come before him and told the commission when he was hired that he plans to be at MMLP until he retires.

Over the years, Trembley has seen great leaders and poor ones and tries to emulate the ones that he admired. He does not like to be in the spotlight; he does much better working in the background supporting others and shining the light on them. He knows he has a lot to learn and is enjoying the process because of the people he is surrounded by.

“This is not about me. I have the best crew. We have worked together for six years from a different perspective, but these people are the success of this plant and I am just bringing a different angle,” he said. “I will do my best to help take things to the next level and I believe I have the capabilities to do it, but I am just here to guide the ship and make sure that we stay on course. The people who I work with make my job so easy; they are educated and highly qualified. We continue educating ourselves and everyone is cross trained here. I want to include everyone when we discuss where we are going and how to get there. We are a team.”

He wants MMLP to continue being a cooperative partner in the community and plans to continue with the projects and offer the kinds of support that MMLP has contributed in the past. He welcomes people of the community to come in and meet him and talk. He wants to get to know as many people as possible and is willing to answer questions, hear concerns or just chat.

“I have the greatest gig in the world, in the greatest place, with the greatest people, making the greatest connections,” Trembley said “It is good to be here.”