A Nebraska farmer and an Iowa nurse will be honored Friday at the 2019 Hy-Vee Heroes Game when the Hawkeyes play the Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
“This year’s Hy-Vee Heroes Game honorees exemplify what it means to be a hero,” said Jill Orton, regional executive of the Red Cross of Kansas, Nebraska and southwest Iowa.
During halftime of the Nebraska-Iowa football game, officials from both universities and Hy-Vee will make a special on-field presentation. The names of James Wilke and Katie Gudenkauf will be inscribed on the trophy.
Wilke, who farmed near Columbus, Nebraska, gave his life while trying to help a motorist during the historic March 2019 flooding. When Wilke learned that rising floodwaters had stranded a motorist along a nearby country road, he fired up his tractor and went to help despite the wind and rain.
Guided by volunteer first responders, Wilke set off down Monastery Road and across the bridge over Shell Creek. But the bridge collapsed under the tractor’s weight, throwing the 50-year-old father into the flood-swollen creek.
After a frantic search by neighbors, his body was found downstream about nine hours later, near his own farm.
“He was always the first to go help somebody, and that’s probably why they called him,” his cousin, Paul Wilke, said Wednesday. “He probably would not like all the attention or want to be called a hero, but I think it’s for a good cause and it might help motivate other people.”
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James Wilke’s life and sacrifice won’t be forgotten, his cousin said. He farmed his entire life on land homesteaded by his great-grandfather.
He and his wife, Rachel, raised three children, Julianne, Colton and Addie. Wilke graduated from Lakeview High School in the 1980s and was an elder at Christ Lutheran Church.
Gudenkauf, a Dubuque native, said it’s a strange feeling to be called a hero. She has said that it was “a group of people,” including another nurse, who came together to help Jake Tebbe when his heart stopped while playing soccer.
“It feels odd to be recognized as a hero, because it’s not something I necessarily think of myself as, because there would never be a situation where I would not jump in and help them,” she said. “I think that’s just part of being in the medical profession. I would always jump in and help someone no matter what.”
Gudenkauf jumped in last March on the Clarke University campus in Dubuque. She was at an indoor soccer tournament in which Tebbe was playing.
Tebbe’s heart stopped beating and he blacked out during the game. Gudenkauf, a family practice nurse now working at Grand Regional Health Center in Lancaster, Wisconsin, stepped in and asked someone to get the automatic external defibrillator that she then used to shock Tebbe’s heart twice.
“It’s crazy how it all worked out and how I will be connected to this individual that I helped forever,” Gudenkauf said.
A roundup of inspirational stories from Midlanders with heart
There's the woman with MS who runs despite her diagnosis. The 7-year-old born without his left hand who plays baseball just like the other kids his age. The refugee who turned to Zumba to help her recover from cancer treatments. Check out their inspiring stories and others below.