A fire fighter from Pella and the Mitchell County sheriff have each received the highest citizen honor state government can bestow.
Pella fire fighter John Langsraat received the Sullivan Brothers Award of Valor for heroism at the scene of an industrial fire last year. There was an explosion and as cement chips and debris rained down, others ran but Langsraat stayed at his post operating a “boom truck” and keeping watch over his two fellow fire fighters up in the bucket at the end of the boom’s arm, spraying water on the fire. “I’ve got to give the glory to God,” Longstraat says. “That day could have turned out a lot worse than what it did. Without Him being there that day, I’m pretty sure there probably would have been some funerals instead of the celebration we have here today.”
Governor Vilsack presented Langsratt with the Sullivan Brothers medal, the Award of Valor, in a ceremony Monday afternoon. “You went above and beyond the call of duty and you put your own life at risk in order to save others,” Vilsack said. “That doesn’t happen every day and it is important for us to honor that so that we can continue to encourage those who wear uniforms of service whether they’re fire fighters or police officers or soldiers to continue to provide that example to the rest of us.”
Mitchell County Sheriff Curtis Younker received the Award of Valor for quickly jumping to rescue the pilot of a plane that crashed on the east edge of Osage. It the sheriff’s day off, and he just happened to be in the vicinity when he heard the plane crash. The plane came to a halt about 40 feet from his car. “I could hear somebody moaning and groaning in the airplane so I knew somebody was alive,” he says. “Because of the flames and the smoke, I couldn’t see what kind of an airplane it was but I worked my way around to the wing tip and with the side view I could see it was a crop duster and a crop duster is a kind of a airplane that doesn’t have any doors — just a cockpit.”
Knowing the plane could explode at any moment, the sheriff still got up on the aircraft. “I got (the pilot’s) harness and belt off of him and started trying to lift him out of the plane,” the sheriff says. “He weighed 290 pounds, I found out later, and I could only get the top half of his out and by then some other people arrived and they helped me get him out.”
Younker, who was 68 years old last year when he did made that rescue, has been Mitchell County’s sheriff for 22 years and worked as a deputy 20 years before that. Younker was at a loss for words to describe how it felt to receive the Award for Valor. “Boy, I’m overwhelmed. I’m just overwhelmed,” Younker said afterwards. “Fantastic. It’s really something.”
Governor Vilsack also gave a state lifesaving award to staff in the Des Moines Public Library who tracked down a missing child and corralled the man who was trying to abuse the toddler in a library bathroom. Assistant librarian Dorothy Kelley is credited with being the “field general” for the rescue that day. “Right now we’re cleaning out the old library because we’ve moved to the new library and every time I pass that restroom door I remember the event and what happened,” she says. “It was just a year ago Thursday that it all happened.”
The man corralled by library staffers was recently convicted and sentenced to life in prison. “To this day I’m greatly relieved that he was brought to justice and it’s all over,” Kelley says. Kelley says the “team” that responded to the incident had worked well together in the past — and knew what needed to be done at that moment. “Having worked at the library for 30 years, how you do all that stuff is that it’s automatic. It’s involuntary. It’s just an immediate response. I knew where all the exits were. I knew what staff we had available. I knew what we had to do without even thinking,” Kelley says. “The time that emotion entered into it was when we opened the door and saw the baby in the restroom with him and then it was an image that’s just indelible. It never leaves you. It was a horrible image.”
Governor Vilsack handed out the awards to Kelley and her crew, to the Mitchell County Sheriff and to the Pella fire fighter in separate ceremonies in his office Monday afternoon.