The Ottumwa Courier

March 27, 2014

Someone to look up to

Courier staff writer

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OTTUMWA — Not everyone called a hero is rescuing accident victims on a lonely stretch of road. But sometimes, that's exactly what happens.

"There was a rollover accident," said Joni Keith, a Red Cross board member. "Ashley Hale-Smith was on her way home. She stopped; the truck was on fire. She was given a fire extinguisher and put out the fire."

Hale-Smith then gave personal aid, stabilized the victim's broken neck and stayed with her the whole time.

The Southern Prairie Chapter of the American Red Cross chooses people annually to be honored as "Heroes of the Heartland."

The word "hero" can apply to many different roles, Keith said. She chaired the judging committee.

Red Cross board member Larry Jarvis said the organization accepts "paper nominations," at which time Keith and her committee go through the process of reviewing applications, verifying documentation and running background checks on finalists.

"The focus is to recognize some really good people that go around their community and do really good things," said Jarvis. "We seek nominations especially for people that don't necessarily get recognition on an everyday basis."

For example, since their retirement from Ottumwa schools, Jim and Darla Jackson have dedicated themselves to helping people: church, a homeless shelter, Hospice. But they are especially active with the dogs and cats at Heartland Humane Society. They are active volunteers and served as board members for many years.

"When I think of Heartland Humane Society, I think of the Jacksons," said Keith. "Finding homes for pets. Any of their fundraising events, they're there working."

Josh Chance and all of his co-workers may be considered heroes already: They're Ottumwa firefighters. The firefighters do outreach in Ottumwa, collecting toys, coats and money for March of Dimes. Chance, the committee decided, saw additional community need.

"After visiting a local elementary school a year ago, Josh expanded the outreach of the program. He saw children without coats or cold-weather clothing: coats, mittens and hats. Now it's a year-round program, and now other places are doing it, too," Keith said.

Jim and Karen Dellinger have made their own physical fitness a springboard to a better community. While training for and running and biking in events like the Boston Marathon and RAGBRAI, Jim is active on the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure committee, including being race director and achieving certification for the race course. Jim also serves Hospice as the "on-call" maintenance man, something he does free. Karen "is equally dedicated" to the community, the Red Cross committee wrote in their award decision. She taught preschool at Montessori Preschool for 25 years and ran the preschool at Wesley United Methodist for six years. She is active in Beta Sigma Phi Sorority and assisted the Ottumwa schools with scoring of the Writing Assessment. Karen worked with Festival of Trees for 15 years and volunteered with Hospice of Wapello and Davis County for many years.

Jarvis knows many of the winners. He said Jeff Hendred is best known as an educator in Ottumwa. Keith said Hendred was chosen for several reasons.

"He's just constantly giving to the community; he and his wife both have such a heart for children," she said.

Hendred created a children's bus ministry that reaches more than 50 underprivileged kids each week. His ministry teaches skills for better life choices. He's also one of the people Jarvis was talking about, he said, when discussing people who don't ask for recognition. In fact, all of this year's Heroes asked committee members why they bothered to choose them.

"They give," said Jarvis. "It's just second nature to them."

"Each one told me they thought there were other people who were more deserving," Keith said.

Recognizing these people is the main focus of the program.

"We're also trying to get the younger generation to look at these examples," said Keith, "to educate and encourage our youth to get involved."

Lastly, Heroes of the Heartland also is an opportunity to raise money for the Red Cross disaster relief fund, Jarvis said. In the past year, he added, there have been 50 house fires. The Red Cross can help a family with a place to stay, meals and clothing.

The 2014 honorees will be celebrated at Heroes of the Heartland at 7 a.m. April 4, at Bridge View Center. Anybody interested in attending the event needs to R.S.V.P.

"We had wonderful candidates," Keith said. "It's not that the others weren't qualified, but we couldn't select them all. The [winners] reflect what's best in the heartland."

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark