Gathering of heroes
It was a simple ladies’ day out for Rebecca Kiesecker and Michelle Brown. They’d gone to the casino in Jefferson, but weren’t able to get in because one of them hadn’t brought an ID. So they decided to go home a different way.
That’s when they came across the scene where a semi-truck had hit a delivery van. Both drivers ended up going to the hospital.
Before paramedics got there, Kiesecker and Brown had already talked with the van’s driver, talked to his father over the phone, who began driving there from Omaha, and took his information to share with rescue crews later.
These two were honored as Heroes of the Heartland at the annual Heroes Luncheon Wednesday put on by Serving our Servants and the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way at Willow Ridge.
The Rev. Al Henderson, chaplain for multiple agencies and founder of SOS, presented their award and told their story.
The two women didn’t just stop by the road. They went to the ER at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center and gave the patient’s information to the nurse in charge. They waited there in the waiting room, staying in contact with the man’s father. Eventually, the man did invite them back to the ER so he could thank them for what they did, Henderson said.
“They stayed with the patient all the time until Life Flight came and took the patient away,” he said. “Quite a pair, who got interrupted on a ladies’ day out.”
Two others were honored as Heroes of the Heartland — “men and women who rose up as the situation called them,” Henderson said.
Ryan Buman, of Des Moines, had been in Fort Dodge for Frontier Days last year as one of the costumed presenters. He happened to be up that night when a man robbed the root beer tent and set it on fire.
Not only did Buman spot the fire, but the retired firefighter and emergency medical technician chased the suspect and helped apprehend him.
“In flip-flops,” Buman said.
The local fire chief has said that without Buman’s help the suspect might never have been caught, Henderson said. And with the root beer tent next to the Fort’s stockade, it was only thanks to a quick response that the whole thing didn’t go up in flames.
Also receiving the award was Dan Riley, of Riley Plumbing, who stopped to help when police were trying to arrest a wanted subject. The man had punched an officer and started running.
“Nearby were other officers who converged to attempt to apprehend this man. Also among them was a plumber,” Henderson said. “Former officer, Fort Dodge Police Department and Gowrie, he happened to be in the same area and he stepped up to help. He actually was wounded slightly himself in that apprehension.”
Two Servant of the Year awards were given out for officials who were nominated by their peers in their respective departments.
Dr. Dan Cole, who Henderson called a “legend in the emergency room,” and Fort Dodge Police Officer Caitlin Keeland received those awards.
Cole was instrumental in bringing the Life Flight helicopter to the region, and was medical director of the emergency room for more than 20 years.
“I have had the joy of working with this man in a variety of situations, and I just rejoice at the nomination and the acceptance by our community of this year,” Henderson said.
Keeland was praised by her coworkers for a willingness to take all calls with no complaint, Henderson said.
She also regularly jumps calls, Henderson said — meaning she’s quick to volunteer that’s she’s close to a call and respond herself. She has volunteered her time for activities such as the dunk tank at a recent BBQ battle, raising money for the department, and helped organize “quite a team” for the Special Olympics’ Polar Plunge this year.
Randy Kuhlman, chief executive officer of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, spoke about the many ways volunteers can serve.
“We have the privilege of recognizing some people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty,” Kuhlman said. “There are a lot of different definitions of a hero. Our end of this program is to recognize people who go above the call of duty, so to speak, in making a difference in our community.
“Often times that has to do with helping people less fortunate than them. Other times that has to do with taking an initiative or project or program, and making it something special for our community, to make Fort Dodge a better place to live, play, work and raise our families.”
Kuhlman presented these Community Heroes awards to Susan Ahlers Leman, John Copper and the volunteers of Operation Christmas.
Ahlers Leman got involved with the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association five years ago.
“It was an organization that had gone dormant. They had 11 members,” Kuhlman said. “And Susan stood up and said we need a good, strong organization like this to promote the fine arts in Fort Dodge. We have a great robust community in the fine arts, and yet they’re operating in silos and not really working together.”
Ahlers Leman stepped up, Kuhlman said, and today the group has 60 members and a storefront on Central Avenue.
Copper has been an EMT and a leader at Trinity’s emergency department for more than 40 years, Kuhlman said.
He also serves on the board of directors for Webster County Conservation, and has volunteered in other ways.
“He’s touched people’s lives and made a difference in their lives in a personal way,” Kuhlman said. “In his world of the EMT, where you’re in an emergency situation and just having a person there to give you a little extra care and concern makes all the difference in the world.”
Operation Christmas, as run by Church Women United, came to an end in 2017 after more than 60 years.
Kuhlman said he was impressed when he first learned the program wasn’t just giving toys to kids; it was also to provide necessities to families in need around the holiday.
The Operation takes 200 volunteers a year, he said, who organize and keep lists by hand with no use of a computer.
“The procedure they follow to get this done is a process that would make FedEx proud,” Kuhlman said.
They start raising funds and collecting donations immediately after Christmas, looking ahead to the next one. Many of the items they give away are new, and the women watch for sales all year to make the best of their donated funds.