By Sybil P. Veeder, Chair, Executive Committee Carnegie Hero Fund Commission
2018 was an eventful year for the Commission. The organization awarded and celebrated its 10,000th Carnegie Medal for heroism, and in honor of the occasion, the Commission unveiled at the same time a hand-drawn rendering of the Hero Fund’s 1904 founding deed of trust, the final sentence of which reads:
“A finely-executed roll of the heroes and heroines will be kept displayed at the office in Pittsburgh.”
The roll of honor which Carnegie decreed in his founding document was also unveiled, as part of celebrations of the Commission’s work in honoring the more than 10,000 Carnegie heroes to date.
The Commission’s 10,000th hero milestone came at an important moment. It coincided with a collective effort by Carnegie institutions, far and wide, to mark the enduring legacy of their common founder as we approach the 100th anniversary of Carnegie’s death in 1919.
In continuing our daily work, we draw constant inspiration from the reminders we receive, in many forms, of the impact of our work and of the heroic actions of those we honor. Connie and Kevin Schroepfer, parents of Carnegie Hero Justin William Schroepfer, who died attempting to save two 22-year-old girls from drowning in Lake Superior, passed along their thanks for Justin’s award and recognition, along with this Bible verse (John 3:18), which has provided them comfort since Justin’s passing: “Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other, let us really show it by our actions.” They noted that 3:18 p.m. is the presumed time of Justin’s death.
Nominations of new cases numbered 616 during the year, and of the 76 submitted for review by the Committee, 71 were awarded, a decrease of six from the previous year. The total number of awardees throughout the life of the Hero Fund was 10,062 at years end.
As usual, the awardees represented a broad geographical range in 2018, with the 66 U.S. heroes coming from 22 states and the five Canadians from three of the 13 provinces and territories. In the U.S., Michigan was home to the most awardees (12), followed by Pennsylvania (10) and Massachusetts (six). In Canada, British Columbia and Newfoundland claimed the most, two each, Nova Scotia had one. At 7% of the year’s total, the ratio of Canadian heroes was similar to the historical rate of 7.7% over the life of the fund. The number of female awardees last year – 10, or 14% — was higher than the historical rate of 8.9%. The ten posthumous cases in 2018 or 14.1% of the total, fell below the historical rate of 20.4% and constituted a decrease from 2017’s 23.4%. All of the rescuer deaths associated with awarded cases i n 2018 resulted from drowning, including Sean Zacharey Thayne, who died attempting to save a 4-year-old girl and her mother who had entered the swift-flowing Provo River and were swept downstream, and Jason A. Sigelow, who died helping to save a 9-year-old boy who was carried into deep, rough water in Lake Ontario.
The youngest heroes were all 17: Brent Rudy Edwards, who rescued his 23-month-old nephew from a house fire in Philadelphia; Marcus L. Eliason, who saved a friend from a burning SUV in Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Jay Agli, who, despite not knowing how to swim, drowned trying to rescue his sister struggling in the Connecticut River. The oldest hero was 68-year-old Ronald W. Manning, of Bogalusa, La. Manning fully entered a burning sedan through an opening in its rear windshield to remove two women in the front seats. The ages of heroes in 2018 included four teens; 12 awardees in their
20s; 15 in their 30s; 17 in their 40s; 13 in their 50s; and 10 in their 60s.
By type of act, drowning and fire-related cases accounted for a combined 57 of the 71 awarded cases, or 80%. There were nine human assaults, three animal attacks, one elevation case, and one ice-related rescue. Of the human assault cases, several involved heroes who came to the rescue of police officers, including our 10,000th hero: Vickie Tillman, of Baton Rouge, La.
Tillman came upon a police officer struggling with a man he was arresting. Tillman grasped the assailant’s hand and pulled it away from the officer’s gun and held it behind his back. As the assailant and the officer continued to struggle, Tillman continued to impede the attack until other police officers arrived.
Each of the year’s awardees received a one-time grant of $5,000. Awardees are also eligible for scholarship assistance, defined as aid applied toward the academic costs of tuition, books, and fees. In 2018, $231,897 was given in scholarship assistance by year’s end. 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, $259,000 was paid in 2018 in monthly installments that averaged $396; the number of beneficiaries continued to decrease to 49 at year end, through death or other attrition, continuing a trend of the past several years. Each of the beneficiaries receives an annual review, and all changes in grants are reported to the Committee.
Press coverage of heroic acts, awarding, and medal presentations was robust, and website and social media public engagement saw continued increases across the board. The June 2018 Power of One celebratory event, at which the Commission’s 10,000th and 10,001st awards were presented, was a successful event which included heroes, partners including fellow Carnegie institution representatives, and current and former Commission board and staff. The event attracted significant media attention and featured NPR’s Scott Simon as Master of Ceremonies and Pittsburgh’s own Michael Keaton, renowned actor, as keynote speaker.
Personal medal presentations to awardees continued at a rigorous pace, with almost all receiving their Carnegie Medals from a Commission representative, public figure, volunteer presenter, or case principal.
During 2018, grants were disbursed to the Italian fund in support of operations. Additional grants, provided by Carnegie Corporation, with a goal to support and maintain the vibrancy of Carnegie’s European Hero Funds, supported travel of European representatives to Pittsburgh to join in the Power of One celebration as well as travel to a peace symposium hosted by the Peace Palace in The Hague in October. Both events were part of a series of events entitled “Forging the Future,” intended to properly commemorate the anniversary of Carnegie’s death in tribute to his lasting and widespread contributions to peace, heroism, literacy, and the arts, to name a few.
No changes were made at board level during the year. At the staff level, Gloria Barber, long-time administrative assistant, retired. The full-time staff was joined by two college interns, who contributed admirably to the effort, with fresh eyes. One joined the staff as a full-time operations and outreach assistant in January 2019, and will serve as the Hero Fund’s first archivist. This acknowledges the importance of our work, and helps to secure an accurate record of it for posterity.
Many thanks to the staff for their hard work, without which we would not have had such a productive and memorable year.
- Carnegie Medal presentation to Carnegie Hero Brent Rudy Edwards
- Carnegie Medal Presentation to Carnegie Hero Jay Agli
- Brent Rudy Edwards
- Marcus L. Eliason
- 18 named Carnegie heroes for acts of extraordinary heroism
- Two new videos on Hero Fund’s YouTube channel
- Sean Zacharey Thayne
- Jay Agli