Sue Wheeler, Elizabeth Auer & Megan Barrick
As Sue Wheeler, the Riverplex aquatics director, sat in her office the morning of Wednesday April 13, 2011 the day was panning out like any other work day. The calmness was shattered when Megan Barrick ran into Sue’s office and yelled, “We have an unconscious male in the pool!”
Sue looked out onto the pool deck and saw lifeguards Susan Schricker and Elizabeth Auer working fast to pull a man from the pool. Sue grabbed her phone and dialed 911. As she ran from the office all Sue saw was 77 year old Jerry Vogel’s blue, unconscious body on the pool deck. As she knelt down beside Jerry, she saw that he was not breathing and knew there was no time to waste.
The quick thinking lifeguarding team snapped into action, relying on their training to save Jerry’s life. As Sue and Megan began to perform CPR, Susan Schricker started to set up oxygen, and Elizabeth was clearing the pool. The team stayed composed focusing on the one thing that was important, saving Jerry.
“All I remembering thinking was I was not going to let this man die on this pool deck.” Sue said remembering the day she and her team saved Jerry’s life.
The paramedics quickly arrived but Sue never stopped pumping air into Jerry’s lungs with the bag valve mask. She stayed with him all the way out to the ambulance never giving up on saving his life. Jerry was taken to OSF Saint Francis Hospital where he was fully revived.
Jerry has been a member of the Riverplex for 10 years. During that time, he had seen the lifeguarding team practice CPR and lifesaving drills but never knew that those actions would one day save his life. Thanks to the team on duty that day Jerry is able to still go to the Riverplex for his daily workout.
There is no mistaking that there is now a special bond between the Jerry and the team that saved his life. Though they had never met before that fateful day they now think of each other as family.
“I am blown away by their actions, words aren’t enough. There must be some other way to express your gratitude.” Jerry said with a tear in his eye as he thinks of the lifeguarding team that saved his life.
Good Citizen Hero
Imagine, if you will, the sad little town of Nowheresville. This drab little community had horrible education, people were not helped after fires and no one fed or sheltered the homeless. This dingy place had no art, no culture and the people were unhealthy. No one wanted to call Nowheresville home.
Now think of our Peoria… People from all over the world travel here to take advantage of our top-notch education at universities like Bradley. We have one of the best Red Cross chapters in the nation that changes and saves lives every day. Our Salvation Army reaches out a hand of compassion to feed the hungry and provide shelter to the down trodden. Our neighborhoods are bright, beautiful and awakening from their cocoons to attract more families to the area. Our children lead healthy, safe lives thanks to the programs offered at places like Hult Health Education Center. The Heart of Illinois United Way is addressing our community needs with kindness and vigor. The arts are alive and well through organizations like the Arts Partners and the exciting new Peoria Riverfront Museum.
Why is Peoria such a thriving community, especially in comparison to Nowheresville? It is because Peoria is Mike McCord’s home.
There are few lives in the Peoria area that have not been touched by Mike and his volunteerism. His experience and expertise enriches every facet of our community and his kind-hearted spirit welcomes people to move here.
Michael Stephan and his wife were trying to decide whether they should relocate so he could take a position at the Heart of Illinois United Way. Mike McCord was on the search committee to find a new president for the United Way and was attempting to sway Stephan to accept the position. While he was on the phone with McCord one day, Michael Stephan’s son experienced a traumatic asthma attack and the conversation ended abruptly. The next package of recruiting materials that Stephan received included a letter from McCord, and the first line stated, “I hope your son is doing better”. Upon reading this Stephan turned to his wife and said, “If this is the way that businessmen behave in Peoria, then this is a place that we should raise our family”.
Mike McCord is thoughtful in expressing his opinion, passionate in his support of Peoria and ever gracious in his dealings with people. It is this man that helps make Peoria such a special place, and that is why we call him a Heartland Hero.
Good Citizen Hero
On Saturday, January 11, 2012 Don Meyer and his wife were heading home from a belated Christmas celebration with friends. It was getting late, so Don was anxious to get home. His wife, however, was trying to convince Don to make one more stop down the road at the boat club to see friends. In the midst of social negotiations, they noticed a large amount of smoke coming from a neighboring house. At first, they thought it could have been a bonfire, but then they heard a woman’s cries for help pierce through the darkness.
The pleas came from a neighbor they didn’t even know they had, Beverly McIntyre. She was desperate for someone, anyone, to help her husband, James, who was trapped inside their burning home.
A fire had started in their home, and as Beverly escaped the house, the front door slammed behind her encasing her husband in smoke and flames. Beverly could hear James just on the other side of the door, but despite all her strength, the door would not budge. Black smoke billowed into her face as she frantically started to break the windows in the door. But still, the door would not move. Now, Beverly could no longer hear James. On a dark, cold night Beverly felt completely alone and helpless. “It felt like that was it, but then that one car stopped.”
Don Meyer jumped from his car and quickly ran to Beverly’s aid. Don couldn’t say how he got that impossible door open whether it was adrenaline or an act of God, but the door opened. Without thinking, Don entered the home. He felt around in the black, suffocating smoke and quickly found an unconcious James on the floor.
“I couldn’t see anything but I knew he was in there,” Don said when remembering rescuing James from his burning home. “I just felt around and my hand slipped into his belt loop and I pulled him out of the house.”
Now outside, Don looked into a soot covered face and thought the worst, but then he noticed James’s chest moving. Spring Bay Firefighters arrived on the scene within moments to extinguish the flames and assist the family.
According to the fire chief on the scene that night, without Don’s heroic actions James would not be here. James was treated for smoke inhalation at the hospital, and he was released three days after the fire, just in time to celebrate his 90th birthday with his family.
The Meyers and the McIntyres, neighbors that had never met until last January, now share an unbreakable bond. Every time they see each other they share a hug and tears inevitably flow. When you ask Beverly about her feelings towards Don, she struggles to find the words. “I always knew I had good neighbors but this was beyond being a good neighbor.”
There is no doubt in the McIntyre family that Don is a hero. Don, however, doesn’t see himself as one. If you ask him why he helped that January night, his response is a simple answer rooted in a childhood on the Illinois River. “My dad would always help other boaters if they were in trouble. There were times I would get frustrated that we stopped every single time, but dad just said, ‘You never know when you are going to need help.’”
Dr. Andrew & Kathy Morgan
Good Citizen Heroes
Chris woke up every morning for school knowing that he was just getting ready to face another day of relentless bullying. All he wanted was a friend but didn’t trust that his peers could ever show him kindness because he had a learning disability. Finally, one day, Chris came home and told his mother that he just wanted to go to heaven where no one could hit him or call him names... where he could finally be happy.
Chris’s mother had heard about an organization called the Penguin Project that gave children with any level of disability the chance to participate in theatrical performances. After going to a performance, Chris knew that this was a group he wanted to be apart of, and it has changed his life.
“My friends are there by my side and it feels good to have everyone cheering for us.” Chris says about performing with the Penguin Project.
The Penguin Project started when Dr. Andrew Morgan blended his professional life and hobby together. Along with his wife, Kathy, the Penguin Project has become a program where children can feel the freedom to show how amazing they truly are.
“Kids are terrific, you will be astounded by what they can do if you give them a chance.” Dr. Morgan fondly says of the kids in the Penguin Project.
An important part to the Penguin Project is their volunteer “peer mentors”. Peer mentors are kids without disabilities who are paired with a performer of the same age to help learn lines and dances.
“It takes a special kid to be a peer mentor, you have to be selfless”, Kathy Morgan says about some of the amazing kids help with the Penguin Project.
Chris has been performing in the Penguin Project for the last five years. Last year, Chris performed as the lead character, Troy Bolton, in “High School Musical 2”. Chris also now works at a local movie theater, something his mom was told he would not be able to do.
As Chris’s mother, Marta, reflects on a how her son’s life has changed since joining the Penguin Project, she can’t help but feel emotional.
“They have given him the confidence to trust people and make friends. It is great to sit back and watch him exceed others expectations”.
When Nathan Palkovic decided to take a one-credit lifeguarding course in college he had no way of knowing that these simple skills would never leave him and someday enable him to save a young girl.
Nathan has been described as a hardworking, all-American guy... someone you would want on your team. On April 13, 2011, sixth grader Ivy had Nathan on her team, and it saved her life.
That Wednesday started as a normal day at Von Steuben Middle School. Ivy and her classmates were taking a social studies quiz in Rena Musgrove’s sixth grade class when the unthinkable happened. Ivy fell to the ground in what appeared to be a seizure and she soon stopped breathing.
Rena and teachers aid, Georgie Kastelic, called the office for help as they watched the most terrifying moment of their lives... a girl struggle for her life.
Nathan, who was working as a teachers aid that day, was in the office and answered the call. After running down to the room and seeing Ivy on the floor, Nathan’s training from that one-credit course all those years ago kicked in. He pushed desks out of the way and started performing CPR.
“We knew it was going to be okay when he came in the room,” said Georgie. “He was in charge and had a calming effect.”
Just as paramedics arrived, Ivy took three labored breaths. She was taken to the Children’s Hospital of Illinois where she fought for her life. Ivy suffered a traumatic brain injury due to that event, and her family was initially told that she might never be able to leave her bed.
But this vibrant girl with an unbeatable spirit proved them all wrong.
Ivy has regained her speech and can walk with assistance. When Ivy enters a room she is always smiling and instantly starts joking because she loves to make others laugh. Everyone who knows Ivy can attest to the fact that her determination is an inspiration to everyone she meets.
Nathan takes one look at Ivy and insists that she is the real hero in this story, citing her unbelievable amount of courage.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” says Nathan. “It was a whole school effort, I was just a small factor.”
Rena and Georgie who watched the event unfold see things much differently than Nathan. When Rena hears Nathan refute the title hero, she calmly states, “The greatest hero’s don’t know they are one until the moment comes. That’s our Nate.”