2017 in review: 77 awards made, more than $850,000 given in grants

By Sybil P. Veeder, Chair, Executive Committee
Carnegie Hero Fund Commission

2017 marked a year of change, growth, and continued success for the Hero Fund at large, which is reflected in and supported by the work of the Executive Committee. The Commission’s fulfillment of its mission is to recognize and support civilian heroism in the United States and Canada.

This past year saw a greater than average number of posthumous awards to deceased heroes, who gave their all in the attempt. In its work, it should be remembered that the Committee, in recognizing Carnegie heroes, does so in a lasting fashion, well beyond the present, and well into the future. The work lives on as a lasting tribute to heroes, in life and in death.

In September 2016, the Commission received a note from Merry Stockwell, widow of two-time Carnegie Medal recipient Daniel Elwood Stockwell, who died in 2009. Merry Stockwell had finally completed the final steps in placing a memorial stone at her husband’s grave site. It was a difficult final step for her to take. The stone bore two Carnegie Hero grave markers, one for each of the medals Daniel Stockwell had won, in 1964 and 1992, and they still provided comfort for her. She stated in her note that “Dan would be very proud to see them on his stone. Although he was never comfortable with the title of ‘hero,’ he was very proud to have been honored by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission … Being part of the (Commission) ‘family’ was a privilege to Dan and has remained a source of pride and comfort to the children and me … Thank you for the work that you do honoring those who have heroically tried to save a fellow human being.”

2017 in review
Daniel Elwood Stockwell was awarded the Carnegie Medal twice. First, for rescuing a man from drowning in 1963 in Phippsburg, Maine. Nearly 30 years later in East Swanzey, N.H., Stockwell, a high school principal, entered a classroom where a 16-year-old boy, armed with a high-powered rifle, had taken 15 seventh-graders as hostages. Stockwell offered himself as a substitute hostage in exchange for the students’ release, to which the assailant agreed, allowing the students to exit the room unharmed. For the next 40 minutes, Stockwell, at gunpoint, talked with the boy, until police arrived.
Kevin D. Little, Jr.
2017’s youngest awardee Kevin D. Little, Jr., 10, died in 2015 attempting to save his 2-year-old cousin from a burning house in Milwaukee. After alerting his grandmother to the fire, instead of exiting the house, he returned to the room where he and his cousin had been sleeping. Firefighters found Kevin lying on top of his cousin, the mattress pulled over the two of them. Both children died from smoke inhalation.
2017 in review
2017’s oldest awardee James Raymond Garvey, Sr., 76, of Fairhope, Pa., pulled a 26-year-old man, who was much larger than he, from a sport utility vehicle that had left the roadway, crashed, and caught fire in Imler, Pa.
2017 in review
John Paul Hollyfield


Nominations of new cases numbered 735 during the year, and of the 77 submitted for Committee review, all were felt to fall within the awarding requirements.  The number of awards, 77, was a decrease of 16 from the previous year.  The total number of awardees during the life of the Hero Fund was 9,991 at year’s end.

Seventy-two heroes came from 30 U.S. states and five Canadians heroes from three of the 13 provinces and territories.  In the U.S., Florida was home to the most awardees (eight), followed by California and Ohio (six each).  In Canada, Ontario claimed the most, three.  At 6.5 percent of the year’s total, the ratio of Canadian heroes was similar to the historical rate of 7.7 percent.  The number of female awardees last year—eight, or 9 percent of the total—was right at the historical rate of 8.9 percent.  2017 saw a spike in the number of death cases, 18, or 23.4 percent of the total, as compared to 11, or 11.8 percent of the total in 2016 and the historical rate of 20.4 percent.  In seven of the 18 death cases, the hero acted in behalf of family or extended-family members, including Kevin D. Little, Jr., who at age 10, with the family’s house ablaze and safety within reach, turned and walked toward the flames in an attempt to rescue his 2-year-old cousin. Neither survived the fire.

Kevin was the year’s youngest recipient. James Raymond Garvey, Sr., 76, was the year’s oldest recipient. Garvey was recognized for his rescue of 26-year-old Ryan Hindinger from his burning sport utility vehicle on a rural stretch of an interstate highway in Imler, Pa. The age of heroes in 2017 included eight people younger than 20 years old; 12 in their 20s; 20 in their 30s; 17 in their 40; 12 in their 50s; five in their 60s; and three in their 70s.

By type of act, most of the cases were fire-related, including burning-vehicle (20) and burning-building (12) rescues.  Water-related cases numbered 28 (including five submerged vehicle and two ice cases). There were nine assault cases, which have increased during recent years.  There were no animal-attack rescues, compared to five in 2016.  There were three moving-vehicle cases, three elevation cases (an increase from last year), and a single falling object case, in which John Paul Hollyfield, 56, saved 6-year-old Ashley S. Gruwell from a monstrous, 80-foot tree limb that fell onto a playground where Ashley stood frozen atop a slide during a summer cookout.

Each of the year’s awardees received a one-time grant of $5,000.  In 2017, nearly $200,000 was spent on scholarship assistance, which involves aid applied toward the academic costs of tuition, books, and fees. The students who receive the scholarship assistance are diverse and impressive, each a hero themselves or a dependent of a disabled or posthumous awardee.  Regarding the beneficiaries, who are primarily the widows of posthumous awardees, $273,715 was paid in 2017 in monthly installments that averaged $360; the number of beneficiaries decreased from 58 to 55 at year’s end, through death or attrition.  Each of the beneficiaries receives an annual review, with staff sympathetic to increased need, and all changes in the grants are reported to the Committee.

With a continued emphasis on personal medal presentations to award recipients, Commission staff coordinated personal presentations of the Carnegie Medal to 60 awardees in 2017, accounting for around 77 percent of recent awards. Presentations were made by Commission staff and board members, public officials at every level, and volunteers, made up of previously awarded Carnegie Heroes.

Press coverage of heroic acts, awards, and medal presentations was robust, and websites’ and social media accounts’ public engagement saw increases.

Efforts are well underway in preparation for our 10,000th award, which will include enhanced outreach, commemorative items, and events.

During 2017, grants were disbursed to the Dutch and Italian Funds in support of operations and events. The grants, provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York, with a goal to support and maintain the vibrancy of Carnegie’s European Hero Funds, were instrumental in achieving the shared goal of inter-fund support and continued viability of Carnegie’s international network of funds that support and celebrate heroism in many countries. Carnegie Corporation has remained an invaluable partner and has pledged continued support in the short and long term. Representatives of seven of the remaining nine Carnegie Hero Funds met in October as part of the biennial Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy events hosted by Carnegie Corporation. Plans are underway for collaboration on efforts and events in 2018 and 2019 in support of individual fund operations as well as a World Peace Day in the Netherlands and events to commemorate Andrew Carnegie’s death anniversary in 2019.

At home
No changes were made at board level during the year. However, at the staff leadership level, the retirement of Walter Rutkowski in June effected the final stage of a year-long executive transition plan, with new Commission President Eric P. Zahren taking the reins effective June 30. This represented a significant, and historically rare, leadership transition at the Commission. Prior to his retirement on June 30, Rutkowski had served the Commission for nearly 44 years, most recently as its President. In Zahren, there are expectations of a steady hand at the helm to keep the Commission on its current course of success, with room for new perspectives within a time-honored approach.

I would like to thank the staff for their unflagging enthusiasm and valued work, especially during this transition. After 25 years, I will miss Walter and his guidance, and I look forward to Eric’s leadership.

2017 in reviewSybil P. Veeder, a member of the Commission since 1992, has chaired the Executive Committee since 2002.