Chair of trails council takes after parents

Stephen Pedrick
Stephen Pedrick

Stephen Pedrick inherited the gene for volunteering from his parents.

Stephen is the son of Jim and Gwen Pedrick, who taught their son at a young age what was expected of him.

“I grew up with a strong sense of volunteerism,” he said. “Everyone in the family believes that volunteers make the world go round. With our family being in business so long, our attitude was that you need to support people in the community if you expect them to support you.”

Douds boy

Pedrick was born in Muscatine and moved to Douds when his father became the manager of the family furniture store, Pedrick Home Center. The family also owned the funeral home.

“I grew up in the Douds funeral home, where my parents still live,” Pedrick said. “We always had to keep things looking nice because we had to open our whole house to a million people at the drop of a hat.”

Pedrick said his dad was on numerous volunteer boards such as the Douds Community Club, Lions Club of Keosauqua, Masonic Lodge, and the United Methodist Church in Douds.

“My dad was at some sort of meeting two to three nights a week,” Pedrick recalls.

Gwen is every bit as active, teaching Title I reading at Van Buren Elementary School in Douds. She is active on committees in the Methodist Church, a member of Tri-T and a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, a philanthropic teachers’ organization.

After the furniture store closed, Jim became co-owner of Fesler Auto Mall. Having switched his place of employment to Fairfield, Jim joined Fairfield Rotary and the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. A few years later, his son Stephen would join that very board. Jim was also the first director of the Greater Fairfield Habitat for Humanity Restore.

Pedrick is a project manager at French-Reneker-Associates in Fairfield. Just like his parents have given back to the communities they served, Pedrick and his colleagues at the engineering firm have done the same.

“If we have a project in Bloomfield, we try to go to Hairy Nation Days, and if we have one in Keosauqua, we try to go to the Forest Craft Festival,” Pedrick said. “Growing up, my family was only covering one county, but through French-Reneker, we are covering a much bigger area, driving to places as far as two hours away.”

Getting started

The first major volunteering project Pedrick undertook was demolishing and rebuilding the Little League dugouts at the Douds ballfield, which he did to earn his Eagle Scout badge. He didn’t do the work by himself, but rather designed the project and encouraged others to volunteer.

“We had some pretty skilled volunteers help,” Pedrick noted. “We did it all in a weekend. That was a lot of fun, and a lot of work.”

Pedrick graduated from Van Buren High School in 2005 before attending Iowa Wesleyan College. While there, he participated in the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. At that time, the campus chapter piggy-backed on homebuilding projects conducted by Henry County Habitat for Humanity. The county chapter would build a home, and the campus chapter built a shed to go with it. The campus organization also took a spring break trip to Omaha where they built a new home and remodeled another.

Pedrick transferred to Iowa State University, where he obtained a degree in civil engineering. Pedrick was a member of a couple of engineering societies through he which he performed service projects, one of which was picking up trash along Highway 30.

He had an internship with French-Reneker-Associates in the summer of 2009 the year before he graduated. The firm offered him a job in Fairfield, which he gladly took the following year.

“A lot of my classmates were going to graduate school because there were so few jobs available,” Pedrick remarked. “Now it’s the opposite. Nobody can find engineers. The hiring market is very competitive.”

Trails council

Pedrick’s post at French-Reneker led to the volunteer position for which he is widely known – chairman of the Jefferson County Trails Council. Through his engineering job, Pedrick was in charge of observing construction of the final leg of the 16-mile Fairfield Loop Trail.

Pedrick was working under Kent Rice, a French-Reneker engineer who was also the founding chairman of the trails council in the late 1990s. By 2012, the trails council was in the throes of an identity crisis. Its members had spent the past 15 years planning and building the loop trail. Now that it was nearly done, what was the point of the council? Ultimately, the council voted to continue after the trail’s completion, shifting its focus from trail construction to trail maintenance and promotion.

Once the Fairfield Loop Trail was complete, many of the members of the council stepped down, wanting to give the new board, with its new mission, a clean slate. This meant the departure of Ron Blair, who had been chair of the trails council for the majority of its existence. Pedrick was asked to join the board, which he did, becoming its co-chair. Within a year, the other co-chair moved away, leaving Pedrick alone at the helm.

“At that time in my life, I had been wanting to get more involved because I’d lived in Fairfield for two years without doing much outside of working and running a lot on the trails,” Pedrick said.

An early project Pedrick and the other board members took on were twice-annual trail work days, where volunteers performed routine maintenance on the trails. Pedrick said those trail work days have tapered off in recent years because the club has struggled to fill its maintenance chair, one of seven cabinet positions.

Scavenger hunt

The trails council’s marquee event the past four years has been the scavenger hunt, which starts during Memorial Day weekend and ends during Fairfield First Fridays in July. Participants obtain a card with a map showing where 10 punches have been scattered throughout the loop trail. Readers are given a clue for each punch as well, which helps them pinpoint their location, since the punches are hidden.

Pedrick hatched the idea for the scavenger hunt after competing in an adventure race in Boone. In that race, participants had to locate a series of punches within 12 hours, and required them to run, bike and canoe.

“During that event, it hit me that we could do something like it on the loop trail, although we’d have to water it down because that race was very strenuous,” Pedrick said. “The trails council had talked about finding a signature event, such as rides and races, but those take a lot of manpower and money. A scavenger hunt is low-maintenance, and can reach a lot of people.”

The first year of Fairfield’s scavenger hunt was 2015. Pedrick wrote the clues, as he has done every year except one. The response Pedrick received suggested the hunt was too easy, so he made it more challenging the next year.

“I got a lot of negative feedback after that. About half as many cards were turned in because it was too hard,” Pedrick said. “I think we’ve found a happy medium now. We’ve learned where we can and can’t hide the punches.”

Chamber of commerce

Pedrick joined the board of the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce in 2014, following in the footsteps of his father, who served on the board, and his grandfather, who was on Keosauqua’s chamber board. Pedrick is board president this year.

A couple of the major tasks the board has undertaken in recent years include hiring two executive directors in two years: Detra Dettmann in 2016 and Darien Sloat in 2017. Pedrick said hiring a director is a lot of work for a volunteer board since it involves advertising the position, collecting resumes, and interviewing candidates.

Pedrick and his wife Afton, the children’s librarian at Fairfield Public Library, are active members of the Young Professionals of Fairfield, a networking organization for 21-40 year olds. Its volunteer activities have included helping build homes through Greater Fairfield Habitat for Humanity, Carry On Bags, and manning the concession stand at Fairfield High School football games, among others.