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Red Cross will honor good works at Wichita Heroes Breakfast

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, at 1:03 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, at 9:58 p.m.

Each spring, Wichita fire Capt. Jeff Toews organizes live crash scenarios at three or four area high schools right before prom.

Several emergency crews. Two mangled cars. One drunken driver. One dead student.

Afterward, onlookers – mostly high school juniors and seniors – hug and wipe away tears.

It’s a graphic 30-minute show, Toews said. But the program – known as Operation Prom Night – offers an important lesson to teens: Don’t drink and drive.

“I’d love to say I’ve saved thousands of kids’ lives, but I can’t do that,” Toews said, noting the reenactments – modeled after a Colorado program – mimic real traffic accident scenes. Since 2002, he said he has reached 15,000 students with the help of local authorities, emergency crews, mortuaries and schools.

“But after watching the students, I do believe there’s an effect on them. All I can offer is a choice: That hey, there are consequences and this is what can happen.”

Toews, of Whitewater, is one of 10 south-central Kansans named 2012 Wichita Heroes by the American Red Cross Midway-Kansas Chapter. They are being recognized for extraordinary acts they performed or services to the community. The nonprofit on Tuesday announced this year’s award winners, chosen from a pool of more than 60 nominees who live in the chapter’s service area.

Toews, a husband and father of four grown children, earned the Emprise Bank Firefighter Hero award for spearheading Operation Prom Night.

“This year’s … heroes represent a wide variety of activities that we feel embody Wichita’s philanthropic spirit,” Red Cross spokesman James Williams said. “Our heroes have saved lives. They have made their towns a better place to live, work and play. And they really go above and beyond their normal, everyday duties to try and make an improvement in our community.”

The heroes will be recognized at the third annual Wichita Heroes Breakfast on Dec. 12 at the Wichita Marriott, 9100 E. Corporate Hills Drive. Tickets are $30 each and may be purchased at www.wichitaheroesbreakfast.org.

Proceeds benefit the Midway-Kansas Chapter, which helped more than 80,000 people in the area in 2011. Last year the event raised $30,000.

Other 2012 winners are:

•  Jim and Lila Cunningham, NuStar Energy Disaster Relief Heroes – The couple logged more than 2,500 volunteer hours this year, including responding to 21 fires in July on the American Red Cross Disaster Services team. Since 2005, the Cunninghams have helped with 17 disaster relief operations nationwide.

•  Richard Dixon, BKD Community Hero – The Wichita business owner is recognized for repeatedly donating time and money to local organizations and for his humanitarian efforts in the community and his workplace.

•  Zackary Goddard, Metro Xpress Youth Good Samaritan Hero – The East High senior mentors special needs students and helps coach their soccer and basketball teams. He regularly eats lunch with an autistic student who cannot dine in the cafeteria.

•  Officer Steven Jerrell, Intrust Bank Law Enforcement Hero – The Wichita police officer, who works on Beat 48, has developed both the Youth Corps and Safe Streets programs, which target children in the fight to reduce neighborhood crime.

•  Terry Maher, Spirit AeroSystems Good Samaritan Hero – After surviving a hurricane in childhood, the now-grown Maher helped a Wichita Red Cross shelter resident recover following a tornado.

•  Phil Palmer, iSi Environmental Give Life Hero – A co-worker challenged Palmer to donate blood 30 years ago; he’s given 125 pints to date and plans to continue the trend.

•  1st Lt. Craig Van Praag, Capitol Federal Military Hero – The Air Force reservist saved a fellow airman from choking when he noticed the man couldn’t breathe during lunch at the McConnell Air Force Base food court. Van Praag, a member of the Air Force Reserve 931st Air Refueling Group, is currently deployed in southwest Asia.

•  T.J. Popp, Apex Engineering EMS Hero – While acting as groomsman during a family wedding, the off-duty paramedic saved his grandmother’s life when she fell down a flight of stairs.

To read more about this year’s Red Cross heroes, go to the Wichita Heroes Breakfast website.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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