Late Columbus farmer James Wilke will be honored posthumously at the upcoming Nebraska Cornhuskers football game.
Wilke, who lost his life while trying to rescue a stranded motorist during the Nebraska floods last spring in the Columbus area, will be recognized for his heroic efforts when Nebraska (5-6) plays host to No. 19 Iowa (8-3) at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
The late Columbus man will be named Nebraska’s 2019 “citizen hero” at what is being called the Hy-Vee Heroes Game.
“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, in a statement. “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 be guests of the Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes at Friday’s game and will participate in a variety of special pregame activities.
On a cold day 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, according to provided information. At the time, Jake and Katie did not know one another. Both were in attendance at an indoor soccer tournament taking place in Clarke’s Kehl Center.
While Jake was playing in the soccer game, his heart stopped beating and he blacked out. Katie and her friends, also nurses, happened to be nearby. Katie stepped in and began first aid, ultimately saving his life. Katie is a 2018 graduate of Clarke’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program and currently works as a family practice nurse practitioner at Grand Regional Health Center.
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During halftime of the Hy-Vee Heroes Game, university and Hy-Vee representatives will make a special on-field presentation to the citizen heroes. The names of Wilke and Gudenkauf will also 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.
Paul Wilke, a cousin of James Wilke, told The Telegram back in March that his cousin was an active family and community member, on top of being a terrific farmer. He said James was serving as an elder at their parish, Christ Lutheran Church, in north Columbus, noting how proud he was of his cousin for being one of the youngest people in the church to serve in that distinguished position.
James Wilke was a man who loved to help others and died attempting to rescue others in need, his cousin previously told The Telegram.
“That was the kind of person James was – if he got the call from someone needing help, he was going to help somebody,” Paul Wilke said.
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission.