After being a member of the Order of the Arrow (OA) for the past forty-five years and serving as an adviser at the chapter, lodge, and section level, Gary Christiansen was announced as the next Western Region chairman. Christiansen took over the role from his predecessor, Toby Capps, in January 2017.
Christiansen is a member of Malibu Lodge 566, chartered to Western Los Angeles County Council, and was inducted in June 1972 as a youth. According to Christiansen, he had always wanted to be a member of the OA. “I can remember watching Arrowmen come in and do dances at Scouting events and that was something I was really interested in,” said Christiansen.
In contrast with all the excitement that Christiansen had, and still has for the program, “I’m one of those guys who should have never really made it in the program,” he says. “You know, the people who could have been lost in the chapter, going to meetings and not really knowing what’s going on.”
Even so, what saved Christiansen from being lost in the fold was the fact that there wasn’t anyone to get lost among. With only about four people in his chapter, Christiansen was immediately thrust into a leadership position. Beginning as a chapter treasurer, he soon worked his way up to chapter vice chief and eventually chief, which he calls his “first big position in the OA.”
Christiansen continued to serve in advanced leadership roles, serving as Malibu Lodge chief before being elected to the first of two terms as section chief of Section W-4A. It was in this capacity that Christiansen was able to attend the 1978 National Planning Meeting, which at that time was always held the year immediately preceding a national conference. He calls his experience of planning the 1979 National Conference challenging but exciting.
“Being able to be with a group of my peers and plan an event as big as a national conference was beyond my dreams at the time,” he said. Christiansen added that most Arrowmen don’t know all the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that goes into planning a national meeting, but this enabled him to learn more about all the work that goes into the OA.
Through all this, Christiansen was attending a local junior college where he obtained his associate’s degree. He recalled having to balance Scouting and school extremely difficult, but said it was a matter of time management. “It was difficult to juggle it all, but I got it done.”
After his time as section chief, Christiansen remained involved in Scouting and the OA. He received the Distinguished Service Award at the 1981 National Conference and worked extensively on the National Leadership Seminar program. He is currently the Venturing Area 4 Vice President of Program and was also the region vice chairman for Area 4 for eight years, in which capacity he oversaw the region’s high adventure scholarship program. In addition to these responsibilities, he served as the adviser for the same chapter, lodge and section that he was elected chief to prior to becoming the Western Region chairman.
As one could expect, Christiansen’s family has also been involved heavily in Scouting. Both his parents were adult leaders and his younger brother Kurt served as the 1981-82 Western Region Chief. Christiansen’s son is an Eagle Scout and a former Malibu Lodge chief. Christensen’s grandson will join Cub Scouts in the fall and he “tease[s] that he will be a future Malibu Lodge chief because it’s his legacy!”
When asked to serve in his current position, Christiansen said that he was humbled to be asked. “It wasn’t anything I had ever foreseen for myself.” He says that during his tenure, he hopes to ensure that youth members continue to have the opportunity to serve in advanced leadership positions. “[Current Western Region Chief] Manué Lopez has brought more of his section chief peers into the fold and they’re really starting to have some good interaction on some of the region’s committees,” says Christiansen. This increased interaction is important, he says, because getting youth involved keeps them in the program.
Christiansen says there are three main goals he hopes to accomplish. First, he hopes to further implement programs like Supporting Units through Really Great Elections, or SURGE, to bring in and retain more youth in the program. Secondly, he wants lodges to support their councils with their Journey to Excellence programs. This will help strengthen relationships between the two, which is his third goal.
When asked to describe the Order of the Arrow in one sentence, Christiansen called it, “The most fantastic leadership program to build the character and knowledge of young people.”He added that he has “dedicated a good portion of [his] adult life to the Order of the Arrow. It’s kept me involved in Scouting and enabled me to help so many young people find themselves and do things they never thought they could. Every day is a treasure.”