UB drop-out turned CEO returns to finish degree
Eden Dedrick returned this past fall, 33 years after leaving to pursue games, puzzle business
In 1982, Eden Dedrick started taking classes at UB. Her grades were either As or Fs, and she could be found playing pool and smoking cigarettes more often than sitting in Clemens Hall for class.
Dedrick dropped out in her sophomore year.
Thirty-three years later, she’s back to finish her English degree. These days, Dedrick doesn’t miss a single class, and she’s too busy managing Buffalo Games –– the million-dollar jigsaw puzzle company she and her husband co-founded –– to play pool.
Dedrick doesn’t need the degree to make more money or to find a better job. She said she felt a nagging sense of “unfinished business,” and an almost “lurking shame” about never finishing her degree.
“I wanted it to be sort of under the radar, as though I’ve always had it,” Dedrick said.
The year Dedrick left UB, she and her now-husband Paul Dedrick began attending toy fairs with prototypes under their arms.
She learned about the business through her father, who worked in the toys and games industry for Fisher Price, and then later subcontracted for smaller companies. His work influenced Dedrick during her childhood and into her professional life, she said.
“It didn’t occur to me that there was anything else to do, and I wasn’t really qualified for anything else,” Dedrick said. “We literally didn’t have two cents.”
In 1986, she and her husband officially started their jigsaw puzzle business.
“We had nothing to lose,” Dedrick said.
In 2016, Buffalo Games had over $100 million in retail sales, was ranked 37 in the top 100 local businesses by size and was the leading manufacturer in the U.S. for adult puzzles by Buffalo Business First.
“If you do jigsaw puzzles, then you’ve undoubtedly done Buffalo Games,” Dedrick said.
Mark Predko, a UB alum and director of operations and product management at Buffalo Games, has known Dedrick for almost 30 years. The company is a reflection of Dedrick’s personal values and standards, he said.
“She really exudes confidence and belief, and she’s not scared to say, ‘Let’s go do it,’” Predko said. “I think that energy and passion to say, ‘Why can’t we do it?’ is very inspiring and I think you want to get on that.”
Despite her success, Dedrick shies away from the idea that dropping out was anything like a Zuckerburg-style success story, and she doesn’t advocate others try it.
“I feel guilty saying I dropped out of school to run my business,” Dedrick said. “Because I really dropped out of school because I was failing and floundering.”
She still remembers feeling terrified receiving the notification that she had unsatisfactory academic performance.
“When you get that thing in the mail, you’re sick. The bottom drops out of you. Like, ‘Oh my God, I may just fail life. What will I be if I’m not a college graduate; what will define me?’” Dedrick said.
Dedrick began her initial college career as a physics major, because she thought her father would be more approving of a degree in physics.
“[My father] would not be excited to hear that I was getting a degree in English literature. He would not be impressed by that at all,” Dedrick said with a laugh. “But this is where my interests are.”
She remembers being especially terrified to tell her father about her decision to drop out of college.
In the summer of 2017, Dedrick calculated she would need 26 credits to graduate with a diploma. She then re-applied to UB in July in what she called a “spur-of-the-moment” decision. Dedrick originally planned to graduate this May, but has taken a semester of leave to prepare for her daughter’s wedding. She hopes to graduate in December.
Although employees and friends know her as Eden Dedrick, the classroom attendance sheet says “Eden Scott,” her maiden name. In her classes, professors and classmates know her by the same name she had when she first arrived at UB.
“I thought it’s sort of poetic,” Dedrick said. “I actually want my diploma to read ‘Eden Scott’ because I want it to have already happened. It’s like this little check box of unfinished business.”
While pursuing her interests and trying to obtain the elusive diploma last semester, she said she was in over her head.
“I really love my classes, but it’s hell,” Dedrick said. “Writing papers right now is challenging for me. I find myself sort of jumping up, walking around my house and sort of binge eating. I feel like a freshman in college.”
Still, after running her own business for over 30 years, it was refreshing to be in a room where she wasn’t in charge, Dedrick said.
“When I come into a meeting for 15 people who work for me, when I decide that the conversation is done, it’s done,” Dedrick said. “But, if I say something stupid in my Irish literature class, it’s like, ‘No, wrong. That’s completely misread,’ and I feel like a total ass.”
In class, Dedrick talks a lot. She sits forward in her chair, takes notes and is frequently the first to offer an answer. She is unafraid to discuss her own interpretation of the reading, or challenge the professor.
Dedrick enjoys her classes, but said at times she is uncomfortably aware of the differences between her and her classmates, who are roughly the same age as her two children. She tends to sit at the front of class to avoid seeing any dirty looks by her fellow classmates, she said.
“I don’t know what it’s like to be my classmate; it’s probably annoying,” Dedrick said. “[My classmates probably think] ‘You know, this class could have been four minutes shorter if you maybe not asked that question.’”
English professor Joseph Valente said Dedrick was the “star” of his Irish literature class.
“She was eager to speak, to participate and to have her perspective heard. And her perspective was always intelligent,” Valente said. “In fact, there were students in that class that told me they didn’t want to speak because they were confident that whatever they had to say, Eden could say it better.”
Jessica Clark, a senior English major, said she thinks Dedrick brings a broad perspective because of her age and encourages discussion in the classroom.
“She brings a deliberate thoughtfulness to class that almost encourages other students and her peers, regardless of age, to step up to the plate,” Clark said. “She definitely doesn’t rely on other people’s opinions to form her own.”
After being away from college life for 33 years, Dedrick said some things have changed. The campus, at least outwardly, looks more racially diverse than in 1984, which Dedrick said is “amazing.”
She also worries today students may be headed into a workforce unprepared and taking on massive debt without a clear plan, simply viewing college as a “box to check off.”
But some things have not changed.
“Parking is still terrible,” she said.
Haruka Kosugi is an assistant news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org