DES MOINES — Tuesday’s Statehouse ceremonies honoring 20 Iowans’ acts of valor and lifesaving efforts featured a former first lady and a former University of Iowa basketball standout but all were treated like celebrities.
MariClare Thinnes-Culver of West Des Moines, wife of former Gov. Chet Culver, and former UI hoopster Kenyon Murray of Cedar Rapids were among those honored.
For the first time, the ceremony combined the 2019 Sullivan Brothers’ Award of Valor and Governor’s Lifesaving Awards to honor heroic citizens and first responders who assisted in times of need.
“Today we recognize these humble, everyday, hometown heroes,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds. “They remind us that heroes don’t always wear capes or sports uniforms and don’t seek the spotlight. They’ve simply chosen to do the right thing at the right time.”
Sullivan Brothers’ Award of Valor recognized three members of Sigourney Fire and Rescue — Zachery Steinhart, Joseph White and Joshua Myers — for a dramatic fire rescue in April, and four members of the Ottumwa Fire Department — Capt. Rich Damm and firefighters Gary Doud, Andrew Ewing and Will Munley. They conducted an October 2018 rescue on the flooded Des Moines River that included pulling Damm from the frigid, angry waters that capsized a fire agency rescue boat.
“If not for the efforts of these brave first responders, what could have been a tragic loss of two firefighters and one civilian turned out to be a simple loss of one rescue boat,” said Iowa Public Safety Commissioner Steve Bayens.
The 13 lifesaving award winners confronted a mix of threatening circumstances that included crashed vehicles, overturned four-wheelers and collapsed strangers who needed immediate medical attention.
In Murray’s case, he was honored for outstanding service for helping talk down a man who “was despondent and contemplating self-harm” while standing at the ledge of a parking structure. That person later thanked Murray for saving his life, Bayens said.
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'Humbling honor' for former Iowa first lady
Thinnes-Culver, Lee Gard of Grimes and Sarah Thomas of Des Moines were honored for their actions in aiding a woman who had collapsed outside the Hoover State Office Building and summoning Des Moines emergency personnel in a series of actions that saved the woman’s life.
“Wow, what a day,” said Thinnes-Culver, who noted she previously had attended Statehouse awards ceremonies “but not in this capacity” as an honoree. She said she planned to hang the plaque she received Tuesday in her Hoover building office, where she works prosecuting consumer scam cases.
“It’s a tremendous, humbling honor,” she said, noting the day was filled with “remarkable stories” about the Iowans who were honored.
It was déjà vu for her husband, who was on hand Tuesday for ceremonies he had officiated in the past and recognized some familiar law enforcement and Statehouse faces in the crowded rotunda.
“Obviously, I’m very proud of Mari and all of the recipients that were honored here today. It’s really heartwarming to know that so many people are willing to put their lives on the line to save someone else,” the former governor said.
“Hopefully, this will set an example for others to act when they see someone in distress.”
Reynolds called the ceremonies, which opened with opera star Simon Estes singing the national anthem, a “tremendous celebration of Iowa heart, bravery and kindness.”
She said each recipient “truly lived up to the occasion, showing quick, selfless and heroic action in the threat of life-threatening danger. They sprang into action, showed unparalleled courage and put someone else’s safety ahead of their own. Through their actions, these amazing Iowans truly represent the best of all of us.”