Winterset Teenager Iowa's 'Citizen Hero'

Nov. 24, 2014

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    DES MOINES — A Winterset, Iowa teenager and a bank president from Pilger, Nebraska will be recognized for their remarkable acts of courage on Friday when the Iowa Hawkeyes entertain the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 2014 Hy-Vee Heroes Game. Kickoff is set for shortly after 11 a.m.

    18-year-old Austin Benson and Gene Willers will represent their home states of Iowa and Nebraska, respectively, as “citizen heroes,” the fourth such honorees in the history of the history of the Hy-Vee Heroes Game.

    Heroes Game logo, 200

    “The actions of both Austin and Gene represent what the American Red Cross is all about; providing compassionate care to those in need,” said Leslie Schaffer, Regional Executive for the Red Cross serving Greater Iowa.

    “We are thrilled to partner with the Universities of Iowa and Nebraska, and of course, Hy-Vee, to celebrate these two exceptional individuals and their achievements.”

    On the fourth of July, Austin Benson remained calm and was extraordinarily brave and composed when he rushed to help his friend, Rachel Riley, after she was thrown from her horse. The horn on Rachel’s saddle punctured her leg causing traumatic injuries. As Rachel’s mom called for help, Austin used his shirt and towels to apply pressure to the wound. He held Rachel’s hand and talked to his friend, trying to keep her calm while they waited for the ambulance. Rachel’s family wouldn’t know until later, but the injury to Rachel’s leg was a severed artery. The pediatric LifeFlight nurse said Austin’s actions and ability to stay calm helped Rachel avoid going into shock and, ultimately, saved her life.

    On the afternoon of June 16,, Midwest Bank president, Gene Willers, put the lives of his bank family first. Around 4 p.m., a large tornado touched down southwest of the Village of Pilger, Neb. After storm spotters called the bank to alert them of the danger, Gene ushered eight people, including several employees, into the bank vault and locked them inside minutes before the deadly tornado ripped through Pilger. Unfortunately, the vault could only be locked from the outside, so Gene sought shelter in a cellar below ground. The EF4 tornado destroyed the century old Midwest Bank building. Fortunately, Gene emerged safely from below ground cellar and the bank vault withstood the powerful winds, providing life-saving shelter to those inside.

    “The actions of both Austin and Gene represent what the American Red Cross is all about; providing compassionate care to those in need.”
    Leslie Schaffer,
    American Red Cross

    At halftime, UI Athletics Director Gary Barta and Shawn Eichorst, director of athletics at the University of Nebraska will make special presentations to the Hy-Vee Heroes Game honorees, whose names will also be inscribed on the Hy-Vee Heroes Game trophy.

    Benson, Willers and members of their families will be guests of the Hawkeyes and the Huskers at the game and will participate in a variety of special pregame activities.

    Randy Edeker, chairman, chief executive officer, and president of Hy-Vee, the presenting sponsor of the Hy-Vee Heroes Game, will present a check to the Red Crossto show support for the heroes recognized and the important work of the American Red Cross in Nebraska and Iowa.

    Fans of both schools were invited to nominate residents of Iowa and Nebraska who have performed extraordinary acts of heroism and service in their communities. Staff and volunteers from the Red Cross selected the winners.

    The Red Cross invites the public to be heroes in their communities and sign up to volunteer and be a part of the lifesaving work it does. The Red Cross is looking for diverse volunteers of all ages and skill levels. People can go to to learn more about volunteer opportunities and how to submit a volunteer application.

    The Red Cross depends on the generosity of the American people to fulfill its mission. Those who would like to help people affected by disasters like tornadoes, floods and home fires¬ can make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. These donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

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