Thursday, April 12, 2012


Hero: a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities

This morning I was invited to attend the American Red Cross' annual Heroes of the Heartland breakfast, where one of my own heroes, Cindy Elsbernd, was receiving an award.

I wish someone had told me to hold off on the mascara this morning.

While I know I can't do them justice, let me tell you about some of these heroes:

  • Sergeant Mike McTaggart: not only did he save a woman from a raging house fire by using a city trashcan to enter the nine-foot window, but he also saved three lives in a horrific accident
  • Dr. Rizwan Shah: she discovered that there was no place in Central Iowa to treat children who had been sexually abused, so she created that place and worked her entire career with children who had been abused and neglected
  • Chris Norton: paralyzed by a tackle in a college football game, he was told that he had only a 3% chance of walking or moving; he is still recovering but is now able to stand unassisted
  • Bill Kees: having volunteered countless hours for the American Red Cross, he instilled in his children that "service to humanity is the best work of life"
  • Dave & Cheryl Pence: like Mr. Kees, they have donated innumerable time, service, and money to helping an incalculable number of individuals and have also demonstrated to so many others the importance of outreach
  • Melisa Wissink: after losing her husband in the line of duty and realizing there was no support for her family, she created the Iowa Chapter of COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors) to advocate for families in her situation because "a hero gives hope when there is none"
  • Courtney Deardorff: after being trained by the American Red Cross in CPR/First Aid, she put that education to use by performing the Heimlich on a co-worker, saving his life
  • Cindy Elsbernd: founded Iowa Kidstrong (and its branches, Kid Striders and See-Us Run Des Moines) to combat childhood obesity and bring goal-setting, motivation, and determination to at-risk and underserved youth (like you didn't already know)
Each hero was presented to the audience in a beautiful video clip, and, as you can imagine, so many of their stories made me cry.

None, however, made me sob - shoulder shuddering, audible crying, tears and snot flowing - like the last story: the memorial honoree, Jon T. Tumilson.

On August 6, 2011, Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson was one of 30 American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice when the Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.

I'm sure many of you have seen the photo from his funeral:

Hawkeye, his loyal dog, would not leave his side.

And that is all I can say without the waterworks starting again.

What do you believe the definition of a hero should be?  Who are your heroes?

I believe that a hero is someone who works tirelessly, does everything in their power to make the world a better place for others.  My personal heroes are my parents, who not only give their time and energy and money to others but who - more importantly - have reared three children who are kind and caring and compassionate and who will hopefully perpetuate their parents' principles.  

No resemblance, huh?  :)
But whose coloring did I get?  :)
My professional hero - other than Cindy, who I mentioned above - is Erin Gruwell, a lifelong educator who believed and who has taught countless others to believe that everyone has a story and everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard.  I am indelibly grateful for the impact she has had on my teaching and, more importantly, my students' learning.

Please share your heroes: I love stories.  :)

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