Area shocked, saddened by death of Jerry Steven
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 9:32am admin
Elma Mayor, Howard County Supervisor dies at age 67
By Casandra Leff, Monitor Recorder and Marcie Klomp, Cresco Times Plain Dealer
By Casandra Leff, Monitor Recorder and Marcie Klomp, Cresco Times Plain Dealer
Elma - Jerry Steven, Elma Mayor, Howard County Supervisor, local business owner and former council member, passed away on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 doing what he has devoted the past 35 years to doing – improving the community where he lives.
Steven, age 67, died unexpectedly while working at the new health clinic being constructed in Elma. His death shocked the small community in southern Howard County, but at the same time, those who knew and worked with him looked back fondly on his giving nature.
Dennis O’Brien, whose friendship with Steven dates back to their time together at Croell Redi-Mix in 1983-1984, remembered the mayor as reliable, even-keeled and well-liked.
“He was like a brother,” O’Brien said. “He was always there when I needed him – he would drop everything to help. It took a lot to get him riled up. As mayor, he was level-headed. He would ask me, ‘What do you think?’ We would talk, and make a decision. You couldn’t find a calmer, more laid-back guy.
“He was really well-liked by the town,” he added. “He was a good guy all the way around.”
During his time as mayor, Steven helped bring the clinic to town as part of the Elma Community Complex, and he was interested in bringing new businesses to town. He worked with Peoples Savings Bank toward that end and helped bring solar power to the City and Bank. He was instrumental in bringing the Elma Area Fitness Center to town and making improvements at Memorial Hall, and that has just been in the past 15 years. He was also on the housing committee for the CDBG housing grant for Elma.
Steven could be seen volunteering his time during Old Roundhouse Trail Days and fish frys. He and wife Patty were the Grand Marshals of the first Magical Lights, Christmas Delights parade last year, ringing in Elma’s Christmas season.
One of the many city councilpersons who has worked with Steven over the years is current member Emily Ptacek, who has been serving since 2015 and first moved to Elma in 2011. Her husband had grown up in this area, and after she graduated from college, they decided to make Elma their home.
Her father-in-law worked for Steven at the time, and they bowled on league together at the local alley. “I was the ‘outsider’ and didn’t have any ties to the community, as I grew up in the New Hampton area, but Jerry never hesitated to walk up to me and make conversation. He was easy to talk to and had the same dry, sarcastic sense of humor that I have, so there was always a good laugh to be had,” she recalled.
“Jerry was a great leader,” she said of working with him on the council. “He was knowledgeable and always tried to keep us on track. He enjoyed being a part of our community, both as a citizen of Elma and local business owner and took pride in the town.”
Shannon Gebel, who has worked in the City Clerk’s office since 2013, added, “Jerry was always patient with my questions, even if I asked ‘Why?’
He also didn’t hesitate to answer the occasional ‘after hours’ question as he knew that sometimes that’s just how a small town works.”
She noted Steven went by the book and did his best to set aside personal feelings. “He was quick to offer an alternative solution if he saw the way I was doing something wasn’t quite the way he would do it and did not hold onto mistakes,” she added. “Those were teaching opportunities. We would fix the mistake and move on. I learned a lot from Jerry in the last seven years. I know there was more to learn.”
Steven was also known as a reliable resource if any of his fellow construction colleagues in the area needed a hand.
“We all worked together,” O’Brien said, “and he would help other people. He was a very nice guy – he took pride in his work and made sure things happened. He would check and double-check his work. He was very particular about doing things right – very conscientious. He would explain things to you when you were doing work. My three boys worked with him when they came home in the summer, and they all picked that up.”
Steven was born on June 7, 1953, the son of James and Ethel Steven in Algona, Iowa. His family moved to a farm near North Washington, Iowa, when he was young, and he graduated from New Hampton (Iowa) High School in 1971. He attended North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, Iowa, and returned to the family farm before starting at Croell.
He married Patty Dettmer on Sept. 22, 1984 in Waverly, Iowa and nine years later, they welcomed their son, Jarad. He was elected Mayor of Elma for the first time in 1987, holding that position for all but three years before his death. Prior to that, he had been a member of the City Council.
He started Steven Construction in 1994. In his over 25 years as a business owner, many residents trusted him to build their homes, make repairs or do remodeling.
In 2018, he took on a new role when he was elected to serve as Howard County Supervisor, succeeding Janet McGovern. At the time, he pointed to his experience in city government as an asset, stating he was familiar with the budget process and would be available to all residents in the district.
“Howard County residents sure seem to stand up if anyone is in need for help, and our younger generation is very involved in all that comes up in the community,” he said while he was running. He entered office with the hope of helping to bring better housing to the towns of the county and to make secondary roads as good as possible.
Chairman of the Board, Pat Murray said, “Jerry will be truly missed by all who knew him. He was a product of his farm upbringing – hardworking, honest and not intimidated by challenges, and he had a passion for living. He was simply a good man. What a great way to be remembered. Rest in peace, my friend.”
Fellow supervisor Joe Pisney added, “Jerry’s sudden and untimely death came as a shock to all, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
“I got to know Jerry the past year-and-a-half working with him. He was one of those people who would help with anything – just a good guy who will be missed.”
In 2020, Steven was approved as Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors, where he served on the Turkey River Watershed Infrastructure, Regional Transportation Policy, HAZMAT, Wapsi-Great Western Line Trail, Turkey River Watershed Authority, Wapsi River Watershed Authority and Region 1 Workforce Investment boards and was an alternate to the County Social Services Board.
In his rare free time, Steven enjoyed softball, golfing, bowling, mowing lawn, spending time with family and friends and teasing his nieces and nephews. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus.
“He liked to have fun – he did a lot of things,” O’Brien said. “I used to see him on his golf cart. He would go to the locker for lunch every day. People would come and meet with him.
“He was a nice guy to have for a friend. I will miss him as a neighbor and friend. It’s going to be different at council meetings. It’s been really hard.”
“I will miss his guidance and his reassuring confidence. Jerry was easy to become friends with, and he had many of them,” Gebel said. “As a friend, he was always quick with a wave when passing him on the street, a hearty chuckle and usually a light-hearted smart remark during most conversations.
“Aug. 6, 2020, will be a day for many in our community that will be remembered as one that rocked us to our core. Patty lost her husband of 36 years, Jarad lost his dad, and we lost a great friend and leader. It was an honor and a privilege to work with, serve with and know Mayor Jerry Steven. He will be greatly missed.”
“The news of Jerry’s death is absolutely heartbreaking – he will be missed by so many,” O’Brien added.