Friends, Colleagues Remember Ken Pedersen, Retired DPW Chief

June 11, 2024
The Department of Public Works hosted a barbeque and a brief plaque ceremony honoring longtime past employees on April 30, 2022. From left to right Bill Magee, Adrienne St. John, Jim Maille, Jim Cozzi, and Kenneth Pedersen. Between them they provided more than 177 years of service to the Town of Bedford through the Public Works department between 1952 and 2021. Courtesy Image

The death last week of Kenneth M. Pedersen at age 95 truly marked the end of an era in Bedford.

Pedersen joined the Bedford Department of Public Works in 1953 as a laborer, working his way up to superintendent. 

During much of that time, former DPW Director Rich Warrington said, “It was a different world, a little bit of the Wild West. He did well in that world.” 

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday in the Bedford Funeral Home, 167 The Great Road. Burial will follow in Shawsheen Cemetery. Calling hours are scheduled for 9 to 11 a.m. on Wednesday at the funeral home.

Pedersen grew up in Carlisle and graduated from Concord High School in 1946. Gene Kalb, who lived across the street from Pedersen for 32 years, said his neighbor “grew up a farmer, spending hours helping out the family. Being a fair-skinned Norwegian, the sun really took its toll on him. Later in life Ken paid the price, trading time in the fields with time at the dermatologist. I used to joke with him about trying to lose weight one gram at a time!” 

Pedersen attended the Massachusetts Military Academy, later serving as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He moved to Bedford in 1963. 

Jim Cozzi, one of Pedersen’s colleagues at the DPW for more than 30 years, explained that back in the ’50s and ’60s, “everybody did everything” in the department. Only later did it organize into divisions such as water and sewer, highway, and grounds. 

“He just worked his way up,” Cozzi said. “He taught me how to use a road grader; he ran that for years when we had plenty of dirt roads.”

Before he ran for elective office, former Selectman Joe Piantedosi led a grass-roots campaign in the late 1970s to install sanitary sewer lines throughput the West Bedford neighborhood. Pedersen, he recalled, “was very helpful with my group, and when the actual work was going on.” 

There was resistance from some town officials to the plan, but Pedersen, as public works superintendent, “wasn’t a political person. He tried to do the right thing.” 

Besides failing septic systems, Piantedosi recalled major storm drainage problems on Clark Road. Pedersen “rented a giant Roto-Rooter truck and he cleaned out the drain line.” 

In February 1978, a blizzard paralyzed eastern Massachusetts for three days. But in Bedford, with its already-established reputation for superior winter road maintenance, every street was passable throughout the storm. Pedersen and others in the town were recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for that status.

Retired Town Engineer Adrienne St. John said during Pedersen’s administration, Bedford’s primary wells were suddenly closed due to contamination, and most of the water supply originated through a single connection with Lexington. 

“He must have had sleepless nights wondering if there would be enough water in the tanks in the morning,” she said, referring to the standpipes that cause water pressure.

“There were no computers, no spreadsheets” during his administrative years, St. John said. “I’ve seen his hand-written notes. He didn’t need anything fancy; he had a very calm demeanor.” Even as superintendent, he was frequently visiting work sites, she said.

“He had all the history, all the background. And he was a wonderful guy,” said Janice Finkelstein, who worked in the DPW office beginning in the ’80s.  

When he joined the department as director in 1986, Warrington said, Pedersen “was the most helpful, unselfish person I had ever met. He had a massive amount of knowledge of the system and the people, and he made the transition so easy for me. He was amazingly skilled. He knew every aspect of public works.” Warrington related. He recalled a reconstruction on a stretch of road “and we had this old grader. And Kenny just climbed in and operated it with the most precision I ever saw.” 

“Most folks around today don’t understand how frail the water system was in the 1970s and ’80s,” Warrington said. After the closure of short-lived new wells on Hartwell Road, “We were begging for water. It was a day-to-day thing. We never knew if the tanks were going to refill on a hot summer night.

“And Ken Pedersen was here all the time, in the control room, with the gauges,” he continued. “He helped us get through that period. His hands-on work kept the system running.”

Warrington said Pedersen was “just a wonderful person, a quintessential gentleman. He had a personality that was so welcoming to anybody. People just enjoyed working for him.” 

“There was no better friend than Ken,” Kalb said. “Once after a particularly slushy March snowstorm, I was struggling with the end of the driveway and becoming more and more frustrated. The next thing I knew, here comes Ken with his snowblower. He never said a word, but just started moving the snow with me.”

Pedersen retired in 1994 as water and sewer superintendent. Warrington shared a memory from the retirement party at the Arrowhead, now the Bedford Plaza Hotel. “He took the microphone and, out of the blue, he announced his engagement. That brought the house down.” St. John remembers Pedersen proposing to Muriel Braverman on the spot. “It was an honor to witness the happy days and the many years that followed,” said Kalb.

Muriel and Ken Pedersen. Courtesy Image

Wayne Braverman said, “My mom and the rest of us in the family were very surprised by the proposal at Ken’s retirement party. We knew the engagement was coming someday, but none of us thought it would be that night. And my mom was a very shy and quiet woman who never wanted to be the center of attention anywhere. So, there she is at this big party in a room filled with people having to give an answer to Ken’s proposal in front of everyone. She happily said ‘yes.’

“Her years with Ken were the happiest of her life. They shared so many happy times together traveling, eating out, going to many events, gardening, watching the many birds and animals that journeyed through their yard and sometimes in their home, including a cat that came over every day to be with them for many years. Ken treated my siblings and me very well. We were all very happy for Ken and my mom and the many years of enjoyment and love they shared,” Braverman said.  

“It was obvious Ken was well liked by his crew at the DPW,” Kalb remembered. “That first year after he retired, we had a big snowstorm. I looked out the window and there were five or six plows on our tiny street – there are only three houses on it.

“Ken took his love of farming and wealth of knowledge and spent hours every summer teaching my wife how to cultivate the best tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, basil, and a host of other garden delights,” he continued. “After my own dad died, Ken became kind of a surrogate father. I would often go over to watch the Patriots with him in the fall. During Covid, we decided early on that Ken would be part of our bubble, and we would visit with him daily and do shopping for him.”

Pedersen is survived by two sons, three stepchildren, three sisters, and 10 grandchildren. He was predeceased in 1987 by his wife Marion and in 2006 by his wife Muriel, and in 2010 by his son, Kevin.

“Ken was a good man, a great friend, and the best neighbor we could have hoped to ever have,” Kalb said. “I will miss him dearly.”

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