Carnegie Hero Fund Scholar Hannah Radke, 22, will graduate this spring from Mount Vernon Nazarene University, in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
“I can say with absolute certainty, that without the scholarships and grants that I have received, I don’t think I would have been able to graduate or even attend a University,” she said.
Six years ago, Radke was 16 years old when, while on a Memorial Day outing to the lakeshore at Bay Village, Ohio, with her family and friends, she watched her father, Peter Todd Radke, enter the rough water of Lake Erie to save a girl, also 16, from drowning. Peter did not know the 16-year-old, who apparently had been wading in chest-deep water when a large wave swept her into deep water. Others tried to reach her, but the rough water conditions and 4-foot waves forced them to return to the shore. Radke, her sister, and her friends, sat on the beach and prayed.
Peter, 43, who was an excellent swimmer, according to the Hero Fund report on the rescue, entered the 61-degree water and swam 225 feet to reach the teen. He grasped her, pushing her away from the rocks of a nearby jetty. They were separated. First responders removed the girl from the lake. She recovered after receiving treatment at the hospital. Peter drowned.
He was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal in December 2015.
“Not only can I look back on my dad and his act of heroism, but all of those who the Carnegie Medal has been presented to,” Radke said. Radke majored in communications and minored in radio, while maintaining a spot on the dean’s list with a GPA of at least 3.5 every semester — a personal goal of hers, she said.
While pursuing her studies, Radke combined her personal and professional interests in roles at work, volunteering, and in extracurricular activities, all to further her goal of working as a mental health counselor after graduation.
During her freshman year, Radke secured an on-air position as co-host for “The Afternoon Drive,” a show on WNZR 90.9FM, a radio station that specializes in training Christian broadcasters. Four years later, she’s still hosting and has contributed to the station in other ways.
In addition to being an on-air personality, Radke has also worked as the station’s office assistant, reaching out to listeners, and as promotions director, overseeing the station’s promotional items, including prizes and T-shirts.
Radke describes the atmosphere at WNZR as familylike.
“You spend a lot of time with the people you not only work with but also learn with. This all along with the people who teach and mentor you,” she said.
During her junior year, Radke received the peer-based “WNZR Outstanding Staff Member” award, one of her proudest collegiate accomplishments, Radke said.
“My favorite part about working for this amazing organization is that I have built relationships unlike anything I’ve experienced, and I am extremely grateful for them,” she said.
Recently, Radke had an interaction that brought to life the station’s mission statement—“to build trusted relationships in the community.”
While working a table at an event, she interacted with listeners and supporters of 90.9FM. One woman who stopped to chat with her had revealed that day was the anniversary of her son’s death.
Radke held the woman’s hand and said a prayer for the woman’s son.
It was “the only thing I could think to do,” she said. After sharing that moment, Radke explained that the woman went on her way, but later returned to tell her how impacted she was by her demonstration of solidarity.
“Working for WNZR has shown me how much bigger the mission of love is, rather than me. The honor of proclaiming my faith over the airwaves every day and having the privilege to pray over people, has changed my life,” Radke said.
Back on campus, Radke served as a small group leader for a group of incoming freshman women. She describes the opportunity as a great blessing in her life.
“The point of [the program] is to create a welcoming and safe place for freshmen to begin their journey into college,” she said.
Each week she and her roommate lead a Bible study and discussion. The cohorts are also encouraged to attend campus events, Radke elaborated.
“I’m so incredibly thankful for those relationships that I built and the small impact I hopefully had on those girls’ lives,” she said.
When Radke wasn’t focused on school work, her job at the radio station, or mentoring underclassman, she performed in university theater productions.
She describes her role as Caleb, the father in the production of “Don’t Take My Penny,” a classic 1940s comedy by playwright Anne Coulter Martens, as the most fun. However, embodying this character came at a price—in the form of a mild chemical burn to her upper lip from the expired gum she used to affix the mustache of her costume.
Radke said that while she primarily performed on stage, she also helped out with makeup and hair backstage when she could.
Looking forward to summer, Radke is considering travelling to Minneapolis to intern at River Valley Church.
“I feel as if it is where I’m supposed to be,” she said.
According to the church’s website, the internship program is designed to engage students in intentional, practical, world-changing leadership development while earning college credit. The program promotes personal and professional growth as students are geared toward one of the church’s “ministry paths.”
These tracks offer skill-centered development in areas of live production, marketing, graphic design, social media, music, photography, and film. Additionally, there are ministry-focused paths designed for pastors, youth, women, adults, and for ministry on the global level.
As Radke wraps up her undergraduate career, she has submitted her application to Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio, where she hopes to attend to obtain her master’s degree in Christian counseling.
She plans on starting her career as a mental health counselor, ideally with a private practice. Eventually she would like to specialize with children.
“I have been able to succeed because of organizations like CHFC. My gratitude is truly unending,” Radke stated.
-—Abby Brady, operations and outreach assistant/archivist