We're usually not on time, but I commented that morning how it was exactly 9 o'clock when we left
Grinnell, IA (Vocus) November 19, 2010
A trunkful of Wisconsin apples. That’s what three Grinnell Mutual co-workers had in mind as they departed their homes early Saturday morning, October 2. A series of ironic events led co-workers Laurie Gerard, Kim Lender, and Mary Roudabush to where they were most needed that morning—a roadside rescue where a flipped mini-van was beginning to burn with a grandma and her two granddaughters, ages one and three-years-old, inside.
“We’re usually not on time, but I commented that morning how it was exactly 9 o’clock when we left,” said Roudabush, a senior personal lines underwriter for Grinnell Mutual. “My husband told us to take one road, but we went a different route. Things just happened exactly as they were supposed to. ”
An unexpected scene
As they rounded a corner east of Cascade, Iowa, a smoking mini van lay passenger-side down across both East bound lanes. Gerard, Lender, and Roudabush immediately joined other travelers who had stopped to help, including David Walterbach of Marion, Nathan and Megan Copeland of Pella, Shelly Hartman of Marion, and others whose names still remain unknown.
Among the group was the daughter of a local fire chief, who called her father while others dialed 911. The fire department members were roofing that morning, which delayed their arrival time. Flames soon began shooting out from beneath the van with the passengers—Kadie and Madison Schaeffer and their grandma Dani Eldeen—still inside. The rescue effort was left to the small group of individuals standing at the scene.
“We noticed the flames and nobody was getting out of the vehicle. There were no cries for help. We didn’t know how many people were in there,” said Lender, also a senior personal lines underwriter for Grinnell Mutual.
“The van was eerily quiet, but we weren’t about to stand by and watch a fellow human being burn,” said Roudabush.
Time was limited and they needed a fire extinguisher. Gerard sprang into action, flagging down a semi truck that just happened to be passing by. Because her husband is a trucker, Gerard knew that all drivers keep an extinguisher in their side box.
“Laurie was pounding on the door before the driver got stopped,” said Lender, speaking of Gerard, a senior customer service representative at Grinnell Mutual.
After the truck driver extinguished the fire, the passengers were pulled from the vehicle and checked for injuries. Gerard and Lender directed traffic until emergency personnel arrived while Roudabush stayed nearby to comfort the youngsters.
An unexpected news cast
As the emergency responders and state patrol took control of the scene, the rescue group began to disperse, expecting to never see one another again. That is until KGAN Channel 2 News in Cedar Rapids aired a story about the family’s search for their Good Samaritan rescuers.
Gerard responded to the news cast and eventually the three co-workers were put in contact with Daryl Lang, a grandfather to the little girls who were in the mini van. As the secretary-manager of Brown Township Mutual Insurance Association of Springville, Lang nominated the rescuers for a Public Service Award at the 2010 Mutual Insurance Association of Iowa (MIAI) convention in Des Moines. They won.
Weeks later, these women still marvel at the timing of the day’s events.
“Everybody jumped in to do what needed to be done. Everybody worked together. The people there were at the right place at the right time,” said Lender.
“There were a lot of people working together doing miraculous things,” said Lang in a KGAN news clip. “You want to thank them but you don’t know how.”
An unexpected honor
On November 15, six of the rescuers were honored at a recognition ceremony at the MIAI convention with a standing ovation. It was the first time that the co-workers saw the little girls, their grandmother, and fellow rescuers since the accident. As employees of one of MIAI’s member associations, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, Gerard, Lender, and Roudabush were not eligible to receive the award, but Lang requested they be recognized for their roles in protecting his family members. Rescuers N. Copeland and Walterbach accepted the Public Service Award.
“You start thinking, if that was my kid, I would want somebody to help,” said Gerard.
“Just knowing that everybody was safe and okay brought closure for me,” said Lender. “It’s nice to hear the family say ‘thank you,’ but I don’t think it was anything that anyone else wouldn’t do in that situation. We didn’t think. We just did it. The car was stopped and we were out.”
“And that’s what everybody did,” agreed Roudabush. “Heroes? I wouldn’t go that far. Good Samaritans, eh, borderline. The bottom line is that everyone was wearing their seatbelt. Seat belts save lives.”
Of course, Good Samaritans help, too.
The family and some of their rescuers are reunited at the MIAI Convention. Front row: Madison and Kadie Schaeffer. Second row: Nielie Schaeffer and Mary Roudabush. Third row: Grandma Dani and Kim Lender. Fourth row: Megan Copeland and Laurie Gerard. Back row: David Walterbach and Nathan Copeland.
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