MORRIS – Grundy County's new Emergency Management Director, Joe Schroeder, worked his first 29 years in emergency management without receiving a single paycheck.
Schroeder began volunteering for the Macoupin County EMA in 1990, eventually becoming that county's deputy director of EMA in 2004, a position that was not compensated.
He worked other jobs to help pay the bills, but Schroeder was most passionate about his work at the EMA because it allowed him to "serve the people."
"When people would ask where I worked, the joke was, 'Well, I work at Prairie Farms Dairy, but I do emergency management the other 24 hours,'" Schroeder said. "It was just that busy. There was so much to it."
Somehow, Schroeder found time while working in Macoupin County to complete the coursework needed for several emergency management accreditations. In 2009, he was hired as the deputy director of the Grundy County EMA. He has spent the last five years working under longtime EMA Director Jim Lutz.
Lutz retired from the EMA in April after more than 30 years with Grundy County.
Schroeder was approved to become the interim EMA director effective the day after Lutz's retirement.
"Jim is great guy and he had a great program going and I learned from him," Schroeder said.
After two weeks as the interim director, Schroeder was appointed to fill the position by Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson, which was subsequently approved by the full Grundy County Board in May.
"I think he's doing a really good job so far," Severson said. "Everyone is very happy with his performance."
As the deputy director, Schroeder handled the operational aspect of the EMA while Lutz handled the administrative duties. With the promotion, Schroeder said he is still learning the managerial tasks, the most challenging is overseeing the department's budget and learning the county's committee process.
Schroeder said he is compiling comprehensive reports to see how the department can improve on the programs and policies Lutz had in place.
"I got a lot of questions when I took over about the changes I was going to make," he said. "A lot of it is just learning where we're at and where we we need to go."
The county will be hiring for the deputy director position soon, giving Schroeder more time to focus on his new position since he is currently "doing double duty" as both director and deputy director.
He said he is enjoying the new position, but sometimes yearns for his volunteer days.
"There's some things you miss," Schroeder said. "There's some satisfaction you get while volunteering that you don't quite get with the pay. But ultimately, the goal was always to have a job in emergency management and here I am."