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Beauty From Ashes | Opinion

We’ve heard people say it time and again, “Beauty can come from ashes!”, but living that out is hard soul-clutching work. That could not be more true for Melanie Petty and her efforts to honor her late son Trevor, with the Trevor Fredrickson Memorial Fund.

When I sat down to talk with Melanie, we certainly weren’t strangers, but I think we would both say our friendship has grown since we moved back home. We have children in the same grade and by rural standards – we are for sure neighbors. Our kids are in 4H together and the manicotti she brought our family after my hysterectomy – well, we all still talk about it! But it’s safe to say broaching the topic of losing her son is not something we had talked about before.

Prior to our dinner together I felt her some of the questions I had and things I wanted to talk about. She cautioned me that she wasn’t very good with words, but I couldn’t disagree more. As she handed me the paper with her lengthy handwritten answers, I quickly scanned the first couple of paragraphs. Nope. She wasn’t going to be reading that in the middle of the Mexican restaurant. Our friendship had certainly grown, but I didn’t want to subject her to my ugly cry just yet!

Trevor Frederickson graduated from Atlantic High School in 2006. He was a very beloved classmate, friend, and student, who deeply cared about his friends, family, community, and the game of baseball. On June 18, 2009, Trevor tragically lost his life to a fire at his home in Council Bluffs. He was 21 years old. To those that knew and remember Trevor, the loss of his infectious spirit and friend-to-all nature of him, leaves a hole on this earth not easily filled.

Shortly after Trevor’s passing, a group of his friends organized a golf tournament to purchase a bench in his honor. The outpouring of support and love surrounding that golf tournament gave way to a much bigger mission. The Trevor Frederickson Memorial Fund was formed and the golf tournament became an annual event and what unfolded – well, can literally be seen all over town and all over SW Iowa.

No parent should have to bury a child. It’s an unimaginable scenario. Melanie shared with me that the days, months, even the year after Trevor’s passing, often were a fog. Like many parents wading through the suffocation of grief, she had other children, a family at home that needed her. She turned to her family and friends, a grief support group, her faith de ella, and shared about Trevor every chance she could to navigate the slow process that is healing. We’ve heard so many people say that the loss doesn’t leave you, but you do learn to live with it. Mel agrees.

Her advice to anyone walking out this journey – find a grief support group, fall apart when you need to, but find the joy surrounding you as often as you can. Beautiful and brutal exist simultaneously – and it’s okay to feel both. It will get better over time. The loss never leaves, but you do learn to live with it!

Trevor’s obituary lists the people he is survived by – and as customary it lists his closest family. But we know that list could go on for pages. When a town loses one of their own, at a young age, there is no way to fully encapsulate how deep that loss is felt. It’s felt by family, friends, younger students, teachers and school staff, older generations, gas station attendants that see us so often, the McDonalds employee who knows our order, and well, the whole community. The loss feels personal because we aren’t supposed to bury our kids. When one of our own loses one of their babies, it just, it’s just different.

On the T-Fred Facebook page, part of the mission statement shares “Through him we all became better people!” This is a similar sentiment I shared about my grandpa at the conclusion of my opportunity to share at his funeral. Who could say the same about us? Who is better because they know us? This isn’t prideful in nature in any regard, more so a challenge. I want to be that kind of person. Do you? Who enjoys their day because of our interaction with them? Who is making our day better because of who and how are they? Do they know what they mean to you? I could use some sharpening in this regard, maybe you too? I think Trevor would encourage us to remember that not every day is guaranteed, but we are here now today, how will we make it count?

Melanie, her family, friends, and friends of Trevor have devoted a great deal of time and effort to taking what is a parents worst nightmare and using that unspeakable tragedy to pour back into a community that loved and poured into their son, friend, and classmate. Her response from Ella to the loss of Trevor is a textbook example of ‘beauty from ashes!’ The stamp of the T-Fred Memorial Fund can be found on park benches, athletic fields, scoreboards, dozens and dozens of scholarships, pitching clinics, kids sports teams, purchased bricks in support of community growth and development, Shop with a Cop, APD Summer kids programs, and so many more community-minded initiatives. A quick google search shows the time and effort to give back in honor of Trevor, knows no bounds. The Trevor Frederickson Memorial Fund has given back well over $200,000. If that isn’t real life beauty from ashes, then I’m not sure what it is.

There is a song by Jason Aldean titled ‘Tattoos on this Town.’ When I hear that song I think of Trevor and the legacy being lived on, through the determination of those who love him. We all have a chance to leave our mark on those we love and this community we live in. I hope we understand the weight of that responsibility and honor the opportunity.

Mel – thank you for sharing your heart with me. It’s easy to think we know all the details when we’ve ‘lived’ the tragedy alongside you. I learned so much but what stuck with me most, is the way your eyes still light up when you talk about Trevor. The way you share about your greatest loss turned into a blessing for countless children and community programs is truly beautiful. Words seem to fail in explaining those moments that night, because it was more of a shift in the atmosphere vs. the words you said. A light-hearted but genuine feeling of happiness and loss. Almost as if the one we spent the night talking about, was sitting in that booth with us. It was an honor to spend time with you talking about Trevor and hearing your heart behind all you do to honor him.

The 14th Annual T-Fred Memorial Golf Tournament is coming up June 18, 2022 and the Atlantic Golf and Country Club. To register, donate, or learn more, email Mel at:

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