James Wilke

James Wilke with his grandson, Breckin

OMAHA — A farmer from Columbus who lost his life while trying to rescue a stranded motorist during the Nebraska floods last spring will be honored for his heroic efforts at this week’s Nebraska-Iowa football game.

James Wilke will be recognized as Nebraska’s 2019 “citizen hero” at the Hy-Vee Heroes Game on Friday, Nov. 29, when the Cornhuskers take on the Hawkeyes 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. “Their lifesaving actions define why the American Red Cross, Hy-Vee, the University of Nebraska and the University of Iowa partner together each year to showcase extraordinary citizens in both states.”

Wilke’s family and Katie Gudenkauf, who has been selected as Iowa’s 2019 “citizen hero,” will attend Friday’s game and participate in a variety of special pregame activities. During halftime, university and Hy-Vee representatives will make a special on-field presentation to the citizen heroes. The names of Wilke and Gudenkauf also will be inscribed on the Hy-Vee Heroes Game trophy.

Earlier this year, individuals were invited to nominate residents of Iowa and Nebraska who performed extraordinary acts of heroism and service in their communities for the “citizen hero” award. Staff and volunteers from the American Red Cross selected the winners.

In March, as floodwaters rose, Wilke was asked by local authorities to help a stranded motorist. James did not hesitate to climb into his tractor to assist this stranger. As he crossed a flooded bridge in his tractor, the bridge gave out. James and his tractor were swept away by the floodwaters. James gave his life while attempting to save the life of a stranger.

Also in March, a tragic turn of events caused Katie Gudenkauf and Jake Tebbe’s paths to cross on Clarke University’s campus in Dubuque, Iowa. While Tebbe was playing at an indoor soccer tournament, his heart stopped beating and he blacked out. Gudenkauf and her friends, also nurses, happened to be nearby. Gudenkauf stepped in and began first aid, eventually saving his life. Gudenkauf is a 2018 graduate of Clarke’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program and works as a family practice nurse practitioner at Grand Regional Health Center.

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