Jim Kvedaras, 58, retired in November as executive director of public affairs and government affairs at Canadian National Railway in Homewood. He’d been working for railroads for 37 years.
Kvedaras, 58, retired in November as executive director of public affairs and government affairs at Canadian National Railway in Homewood. He’d been working for railroads for 37 years.
Kvedaras was born and raised in Homewood. He attended Homewood schools and is a graduate of Homewood-Flossmoor High School. He attended the University of Illinois briefly, but soon dropped out because he was anxious to get started in the world.
“I was young, inexperienced and wanted to do something besides attend classes,” he said. “Of course, that meant I had to find a job. Luckily, a friend of my dad’s told me that he had heard that the Illinois Central Railroad in Homewood (purchased in 1998 by Canadian National) was hiring so I went over there and applied. As luck would have it, I was hired. When I look back over the years, I realize that I was very fortunate and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
That was 1981 and the beginning of his life with the railroad. His first job was with the engineering/drafting department.
“For several years, that was my life; sitting at the drawing board. I didn’t get involved with other departments and didn’t really think about the bigger picture,” he said.
“It finally dawned on me one day that the railroad was a huge business and that there was more to it than the engineering department. The public doesn’t realize the importance of the railroad to the economy, not only in Homewood, but also internationally. If it weren’t for the railroads, businesses and commerce couldn’t function. Anything we use, make, wear, eat or drive, etc., is transported by rail.
“I know people complain about noise, traffic blockages, etc., but if it weren’t for the railroads the economy would be a mess. Prices on everything would go up, materials wouldn’t be delivered. Railroads are basically the backbone of the economy, both locally and globally,” he said.
“Well, I guess you can take me out of the railroad, but you can’t take the railroad out of me,” Kvedaras says with a laugh.
Back in the day when he realized the extent of the railroad business, he decided it was time to go back to school. While still working, he attended Governors State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1989. Later, he attended Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, earning a master’s in transportation and international business in 1998.
Through the years, he worked in several departments at the Homewood facility, which is the Southern Regional Operations Headquarters. Departments housed there include engineering, marketing, legal, risk mitigation and public affairs/government affairs.
“I met a lot of people. I attended Business After Hours events, special events, Rotary meetings and other business organizations. It was my job to build good relationships with all communities, especially those impacted by the railroad,” Kvedaras explained.
“I can’t say enough about the center and the staff,” he said. “They are incredible people working hard to help patients and their families suffering from this terrible disease.”
Kvedaras encourages others to follow his lead.
“I know it can be hard when you are working, raising a family and maybe taking classes, but it can be done. Organizations working for a good cause need help and there are not enough people volunteering,” he said.
“It is usually just one or two people doing all the work. A community should work together to make it a good place to live and work. Everyone has skills, talent or experience that can help others,” he noted. “We should be setting an example to encourage our young people to get involved.”
“I am almost giddy with the sense of freedom I feel, and I am still adjusting to it. I do hope to get some hiking in and possibly a cruise or two, because Cathy enjoys them,” he said.
And, of course, he will be volunteering.