By Rebecca Band
IBEW 1245 member Nick Pepper was enjoying a day off from work when something serendipitous happened.
Pepper, who works as a PG&E Lineman in San Rafael, was tuned in to a Sonoma County country radio station, Froggy 92.9, while loading up his car after a Costco trip when he heard a new clue from the “$5,000 Fugitive.” As an avid Froggy 92.9 listener, Pepper was familiar with the “$5,000 Fugitive” contest that the station had been running for several weeks. The contest centered around a fictitious “fugitive” who, as the story goes, had “stolen” $5,000 from the radio station. The “fugitive” periodically called in to the radio station and provided clues as to her whereabouts, and the first listener to put all the clues together and locate the “fugitive” would be awarded the $5,000 prize.
“I was listening to the radio when the fugitive called in with another clue … and I heard her say, ‘Thanks to Paul Golis for a place to hang.’ I’m pretty familiar with Paul Golis Park; it’s right near where I used to live in Rohnert Park,” said Pepper. “So I figured I would cruise by there on my way home. What did I have to lose?”
The “fugitive” had previously disclosed the type of car she drove, as well as the fact that she was a woman, and a fan of the San Francisco Giants. When Pepper arrived at Paul Golis Park, he spotted the suspicious car with a big Giants sticker in the parking lot, and he knew he was hot on her trail. But the only way he could collect the prize was by approaching the “fugitive” herself.
“In order to win, I had to walk up to a random stranger and ask a very specific question — ‘Are you the Froggy 92.9 $5,000 Fugitive?’ It had to be those exact words,” said Pepper. “Well, I asked the first lady I saw, and she said ‘No.’ Then I saw two other ladies over by the courts. So asked one of them, ‘Are you the Froggy 92.9 $5,000 Fugitive?’ and she said ‘No.’ Then I asked the other one, ‘Are you the Froggy 92.9 $5,000 Fugitive?’ and she said ‘Yes!’ At first I thought she was joking, but then she handed me the envelope with the radio station logo on it, and I realized she was serious!”
The Right Thing to Do
Inside the envelope was the phone number to the radio station. Pepper called in to announce he had caught the “fugitive,” and the station asked him what he planned to do with the prize money. Pepper said he wasn’t sure, but that he intended to donate half of it to charity.
“Donating part of the prize money just felt like the right thing to do. Honestly, it was the first thing to pop into my head,” said Pepper. “It’s the way I was brought up, I guess. I have a nice job, I have my health. I’m a pretty lucky guy in that respect. I figure it’s always good to give back.”
“$5,000 is a lot of money. I’ve never won anything close to that,” Pepper continued. “I was happy to keep $2,500, and give the rest away. I’d rather be able to do something extremely nice for some people who really need it.”
When Pepper saw his IBEW 1245 Business Rep, Ralph Kenyon, and mentioned the contest and his plan to donate half of his prize to charity, Kenyon was so inspired by Pepper’s generosity that he immediately reached into his own pocket and pulled $200 in cash from his wallet, handed it to Pepper, and told him to add that to his donation.
Pepper decided to see if he could make his donation even more impactful. He knew that IBEW 1245 often makes donations to different charities, so he asked Assistant Business Manager Bob Gerstle about the possibility of the union matching his donation. Gerstle ran Pepper’s request up through the Executive Board, and succeeded in securing $2,500 in matching funds from the union.
Pepper also approached his employer, PG&E, with the same request. The company declined to match Pepper’s full donation, but did contribute $500 to the effort.
Altogether, Pepper collected $5,700, which he decided to split between three different charities — St Jude Children’s Hospital, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter.
“Rob and Joss [the station’s morning show hosts] had mentioned St. Jude, which is a charity that the station has been supporting for a while. They provide health care treatments for kids with cancer, completely free, and that seems like a really great cause,” said Pepper. “I came up with the other two charities on my own. I picked the Wounded Warrior Project because I have lot of respect for people who fight for what they believe in, and if they come home missing a limb, this group is there to help them out. And I picked the animal shelter because that’s really the reason I won the contest. I only knew the name of Paul Golis Park because I used to walk my dog there, and I got that dog from the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. So I figured I’d donate some to them, because they always need the help.”
Shortly after Pepper caught the fugitive, Rob and Joss invited him to come back on the air as part of their “Humble and Kind Week” series, where they featured local do-gooders and their unique stories. Pepper went into the Froggy 92.9 studio and announced that he was following through on his plan to donate part of his winnings to charity, and also mentioned the additional donations he had collected from the union and his employer.
When he was in the studio, Pepper got a chance to meet six-year-old Kapri Geernaert, one of the young cancer patients from St. Jude who benefitted from his charitable donation. Kapri was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2014, but thanks to the life-saving treatment she had received at St. Jude, she is on the road to recovery.
“It was really cool to actually see in person and to hear her story,” Pepper said. “She’s basically beaten cancer right now, and she’s able to live a pretty normal life, going to dance class and doing stuff she likes to do. It’s pretty awesome.”