Gary Dietzen, Class of 1976

2014 Distinguished Alumni Recipient

Dietzen

 

Dietzen, son of an Air Force pilot, found his way to the Emerald Coast via his dad's military transfer, but lost his dad to cancer when he was a Niceville High School junior. Almost overnight, his mother became a single mom to four children and began making ends meet on a tight survivor budget. In an effort to be close to home where he could help his mother, he enrolled in what was then known as Okaloosa-Walton Junior College.

It was as an OWJC student that his interest in the environment first took root. "I remember Dr. Paul Boyer had a passion for our planet and was the first zealous environmental activist I ever came across. He left quite an impression with me and instilled in me an appreciation for the need to take care of our oceans."

It was his dream to attend law school after graduating from OWJC and University of West Florida, but the financial constraints seemed too large to overcome so he went to work in the oil fields of Louisiana. It was while working in the offshore oil fields that Dietzen realized the fluids being discharged contained many toxic chemicals that were harmful to the environment and he actively pushed his company to look for new and less toxic fluids, and to develop recycling methods to reduce the discharges to the oceans. In 1984, Dietzen left his job and, along with a patent attorney, a business partner and a great wife opened his own company, Safeguard Disposal Systems, Inc. He also pulled the law school dream out of his pocket and enrolled at South Texas College of Law in Houston and graduated with his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree in 1989. Over the years, Dietzen secured numerous patents and watched his company grow from 10 employees handling local jobs to more than 120 employees doing jobs all over the world. "It didn't take long for us to realize that trying to run jobs around the globe was something that only the large service companies could really handle. Fortunately, our company was in demand and was purchased in 1998," Dietzen said.

Ever the optimist and a man with an eye for innovation, he and his son, a recent graduate of the Stetson University College of Law, along with some gifted engineers, are starting an electronics integration company. As is so often the case with any successful entrepreneur, Dietzen appreciates the gifts he's been given. "As my wife's father said, 'A good education can never be taken away from you.' I firmly believe that – with a good education, you can accomplish more than you ever imagined and take on any challenge with the confidence to find the right solution."

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