HER MAGAZINE

Iowa City master plumber Jane Hagedorn has forged her own path in the trade

Jane Hagedorn, former owner, looks at a copper fitting as she poses for a portrait at Bea Day Plumbers in Iowa City on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Jane Hagedorn, former owner, looks at a copper fitting as she poses for a portrait at Bea Day Plumbers in Iowa City on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Jane Hagedorn is an Iowa City master plumber. Her grandfather was a plumber, as was her father and brother. She has nephews and great-nephews who are plumbers, too, but her foray into the profession wasn’t a straight path following in her relatives’ footsteps.

She forged her own path.

Hagedorn received her bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University in 1972, followed by a master’s degree in physical education from the University of Iowa in 1974. She then taught physical education at Iowa and was head coach of the women’s softball team from 1974 to 1980.

So what made her swap a softball bat for a spud wrench?

As Hagedorn explains, the shift was gradual. She never learned the trade from the men in her family. She knew what they did, knew it ran in the family, but it wasn’t until her brother’s death that her interest was piqued.

“I was called to help dismantle his plumbing business, and I found myself keeping things,” Hagedorn said.

It was about this same time that Hagedorn was friends with Ginny Blair, who worked as a plumber at the university. When Blair accepted a project at an acquaintance’s river cabin, installing the plumbing during the UI’s spring break, she asked Hagedorn if she wanted to assist. Hagedorn agreed, and that was that.

“The plumbing bug hit,” she laughs.

Big time. Both women left their positions at the university for a new business of their own creation: Bea Day Plumbing.

Starting their own business in 1980 was a matter of necessity. As Hagedorn recalls, established companies weren’t hiring female plumbers. Blair had to complete her apprenticeship with a plumber outside of Iowa City, which allowed Hagedorn to train under her. By the time Hagedorn became a master plumber in 1985, Bea Day Plumbing was 5 years old with an all-female staff. It was exactly what the pair had hoped for when they opened their doors: employing more women in the trade.

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“It’s a very physical job, but it isn’t something that demands a certain type of strength,” Hagedorn said, adding tools and equipment provide leverage, making the work non-gender specific.

“It’s smart work,” she said. “You’re working with your hands, but it’s also problem solving and strategic thinking, and, at the end of the day, you get to see the physical proof of the fruits of your labor.”

That attitude and love for the work contributed to Bea Day’s success, but with success came change. By 1987, the business had grown to such an extent that Blair began her own company — Rose Water Plumbers — and Hagedorn became the sole owner of Bea Day Plumbers. This allowed both women to focus on the aspect of their profession that interested them the most.

“Ginny wanted to focus on service calls, and I preferred renovation and construction projects,” Hagedorn said.

Hagedorn has specialized in residential remodeling, although Bea Day Plumbing also does some commercial remodeling and construction as well as service calls. She takes pride that most of the company’s work comes from referrals, which reflects the standards she and Blair set from day one.

While Hagedorn chose to keep her staff size small, allowing her to maintain quality control, she was not able to maintain the company’s female-only status. Plumbing is a profession where men continue to outnumber women and, in order to keep up with the workload, she hired men to replace the female employees she lost over time.

“We haven’t been all women since Josh Anderson came aboard seven years ago,” Hagedorn said.

That may have affected the company’s all-female marketing concept, but it didn’t impact the service. Hagedorn makes sure everyone she hires understands that the work they do is for their clients first and foremost. This means listening to their concerns, addressing issues with professionalism and always remembering that most of their work takes place in a client’s home.

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“We’re aware that it’s not just a work site — it’s our customer’s home,” Hagedorn said. “You will never see a mess after we leave a job. I think that’s one of the things we do better than most companies.”

As she gets ready to retire, Hagedorn sold Bea Day Plumbing to Anderson in January. She anticipates being a full-time employee until early June, when she’ll leave for her annual fishing trip.

“I’ll come back as needed after that,” she said.

Her part-time status will continue through the end of 2019. The nearly yearlong transition will allow her to assist Anderson as needed.

“It’s in everybody’s best interests for him to succeed,” Hagedorn said. “I’m cool doing whatever I can to help.”

Anderson says Hagedorn has already been a great influence on his career. Bea Day Plumbing was one of two businesses he interned with as a student at Kirkwood Community College. The smaller, family-type atmosphere at Bea Day was exactly what he wanted as a beginner and what he hopes to continue as the owner.

“The wealth of knowledge I’ve gained from Jane over the years is huge,” he said. “She’s forgotten or has had to phase out more information than I have now.”

He said he’s grateful she’ll be around during the transition, as it’s important to him to maintain the quality of professionalism and service Bea Day is known for.

“I hope to live up to and continue Jane’s legacy,” Anderson said.

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.