Brian Bergkamp would likely be embarrassed to be called a hero, his mother said nearly a year after her son drowned in the Arkansas River while attempting to save a woman’s life.
That, however, is exactly what the late seminarian has been called by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. Teresa Bergkamp said she and her husband, Ned, received a certificate in the mail on Monday to make official the Carnegie Medal their son was awarded posthumously.
“That’s just Brian’s nature,” Teresa Bergkamp said. “He touched more people than we ever would have dreamt. … He had friends from coast to coast.”
Brian Bergkamp was one of 19 people awarded the Carnegie Medal, according to a news release from the commission. Medals are given out quarterly for acts of civilian heroism.
He is the 107th Kansan to be award the medal since its inception in 1904, according to the commission’s website. Nearly 10,000 people nationwide have earned medals since that time.
Teresa Bergkamp, who lives with her husband in Cheney, said she learned last week that her son would be selected for the honor, though she’s not sure who nominated him.
“It’s a great honor,” she said. “Brian tried to live each day to the fullest and do the best with what was given him. He offered up every day for God, and if that meant giving up his life, he did that, too.”
A Garden Plain native, Brian Bergkamp was kayaking with friends on the Arkansas River in Wichita on July 9, 2016, when Kristen Eck’s kayak overturned.
He was credited by onlookers with saving Eck’s life, though he succumbed to the river’s rain-swollen waters.
His body was found several days later near Herman Hill Park.
Brian Bergkamp attended one year at Benedictine College before deciding to enter Conception College Seminary in Missouri to become a Catholic priest. He was in Wichita for the summer after completing his second year of a four-year program.
More than 1,000 people attended a memorial Mass for him on July 18 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Wichita.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was endowed and founded by the late philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.