PACKWOOD — Packwood Mayor Dave Dickey will step down from his post next week, having completed 27 years as mayor and a total of 49 years in city government.
Dickey was born and raised in Packwood, and has lived in the town nearly his entire life. He was born in 1947, just a few blocks from the house he was raised in and seven blocks from where he would go on to raise his own family.
Dickey was one of five children of Harold and Caroline Dickey. He has two brothers, Doug and Dan, and two sisters, Deb and Megan. He went to Packwood grade school before graduating from Pekin High School in 1966.
“I went to Iowa State University, until God told me I wasn’t going to be an architect,” he joked. “In reality, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
Dickey then enrolled in a school much closer to home: Parsons College in Fairfield, where he majored in business.
“The college was in its heyday and was going strong,” Dickey recalled. Dickey graduated from Parsons in 1970. The school closed three years later.
The year Dickey graduated from college, he and his wife Judy bought a home in Packwood. Judy was from the neighboring town of Richland, and was Dickey’s high school sweetheart. That year, 1970, was also the year Dickey won election to the Packwood City Council.
“Judy and I have always felt that we should give back to the community that gave so much to us growing up,” Dickey said, explaining his decision to run for city council. “I felt obligated to do my part.”
At just 23 years of age, Dickey was the youngest member of the council. The thing he remembers most about his early years on the council was tackling the installation of the town’s sewer system, a colossal undertaking.
“It was by far the biggest project Packwood had ever taken on,” Dickey said.
At that time, each home in Packwood had its own septic tank. The city wanted to replace all those individual septic tanks with sewer lines leading to treatment lagoons. Installing all the sewer lines meant digging through yards and tearing up city streets. The city paid for it all through bonds and government loans.
“It was very disruptive, but we had no choice,” Dickey said. “We were fortunate to do it when we did instead of being forced to do it down the road.”
Dickey said he is proud not just of the fact that the city made such a major upgrade, but that it’s been able to maintain a sewer system without having to raise sewer rates in the last couple decades.
Packwood City Clerk Renota Chambers has been in her position for almost 20 years, and can confirm that the rates have barely budged at all in that time.
“And they’re probably low compared to other cities our size,” she said.
In 1992, Dickey became mayor of Packwood. Why did he run?
“Probably because no one else wanted the job,” Dickey joked. “It certainly wasn’t for financial gain. It paid about $50 a month back then.”
Becoming mayor meant that Dickey lost his vote on the council, but he was able to lead in other ways.
“The mayor is responsible for leadership and guidance of the city,” Dickey said.
Dickey said he’s proud that the city has not had to raise property taxes “hardly at all” in the last 25 years, all while maintaining and improving city streets and upgrading the sewer system. Dickey added that he thinks of Packwood more as a “community” instead of a “town with city limits” because it is supported by people in outlying areas, too.
New fire station
The Union asked Dickey what his greatest challenge was during his tenure as mayor. Dickey said it was the construction of the new fire station in 2004.
Dave Hollingsworth, who is retiring as the fire chief this year after 22 years in that post and 32 overall on the Packwood Fire Department, said the city wanted to upgrade the downtown by getting rid of empty buildings on Main Street and replacing them with a fire station, which would also have a community room for gatherings. To make room for the fire station, the city would have to demolish a series of three unoccupied buildings plus the library, which moved into the new building.
The vacant buildings once housed businesses such as a feed store, a barbershop and a grocery store. Dickey, who has been a member of the fire department most of his life, said it was clear to him that the old buildings had outlived their usefulness.
“There were some in the community, not many, but some, who did not like that idea,” Dickey said about the demolitions. “But the overwhelming majority of the community was in favor of it. It’s been a real key in bringing the community together and keeping us together. It’s kept our Main Street active.”
Dickey said the community room has become a central part of the town, hosting meals and many public events.
“We are blessed with an excellent fire department full of good, hardworking guys who spend a lot of time keeping it up and providing a service to the community,” Dickey said.
While Dickey is retiring from city government, he’s only semi-retiring from his job at Dickey Transport in Packwood, a company founded by his father where Dave has worked for perhaps as many as 60 years.
“I started working there in grade school, I think,” Dickey said. “I remember putting in Kewanee elevators with Carl Mitchell.”
Dickey said that one great thing about growing up in Packwood was that “you could hang out at all these businesses where [the owner] would put up with you.”
“If you did something wrong, your mom knew about it before you got home,” he said.
Today, Dickey Transport runs 80 trucks that haul refrigerated pork products throughout the Midwest and Southeast for companies such as Hormel Foods, Farmland Foods and JBS. Dickey’s son, Adrian, is the third generation of Dickeys to work for the company.
As he looks back on his tenure as mayor and city council member, Dickey said the secret to running the city smoothly is the city clerk.
“We have been blessed with good city clerks, and we have a great one now in Renota Chambers,” Dickey said. “She does an excellent job.”
In addition to the fire station and the new sewer system, Dickey is proud of the town coming together to serve as a day-stop during RAGBRAI on several occasions, most recently in 2013. Dickey said the town has hosted a stop enough times that it’s got a good routine down.
“We typically take in $22,000 and make $12,000 profit,” Dickey said, adding that the money goes to community betterment projects. Most the RAGBRAI money generated in 2013 went toward purchasing an electronic message board that sits on Church Street and which displays the time, temperature, birthdays, anniversaries and community events.
Dickey’s last day as mayor is Tuesday, Dec. 31. After that, newly elected Mayor Virgil Chandler will take the reins.
“Virgil will do a great job, and Renota will remain as city clerk, too,” he said.
In recent years, Dickey has spent the winters visiting his daughter Allison and her kids in Gilbert, Arizona. He said part of the reason he chose to step down from the mayor’s post is because he didn’t feel it was fair to Packwood residents that he was away from the city for such a long stretch of time.
Will Dickey miss being the mayor?
“I think the city is in good hands,” he said. “I’ll stay active in the community and help wherever they need it.”