As the mom of a 7-year-old boy, I spend a lot of time thinking about superheroes. We read lots of stories about Black Widow and Thor and Spiderman, swooping in to save the day. My son loves to ask me what my superpower would be if I had one. And more than once, I have battled an evil superhero in my living room with a Captain America shield strapped to my arm.
While superheroes are fun, I’d be thrilled if my son aspired to be like the real-life heroes I recently met instead of Spiderman. I had the privilege to attend the American Red Cross Greater Akron and Mahoning Valley Acts of Courage Awards on March 2. Nine local residents were recognized for acting courageously and selflessly in a time of emergency. The organization also honored Joe and Pam (of blessed memory) Kanfer of GOJO industries with the 2023 H. Peter Burg Community Leader Award. You couldn’t help but be inspired after hearing the stories these everyday heroes. Their stories are shared below.
2023 Acts of Courage Award Winners:
Easton Spann, 5-year-old hero
Michelle Barlow awoke one morning, her body racked by seizure-like spasms caused by a reaction to a medication she had taken. The episode passed and Michelle insisted her husband Kenny, go to work. Before he left, Kenny showed Easton, their 5-year-old grandchild how to call for help in case of an emergency. Shortly after Kenny left, Michelle had another seizure. Easton, who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum, called his grandfather and explained what had happened. Kenny called 911 and with his instruction, Easton got the house key and opened the door to watch for help. “He was so brave,” said Michelle. Watch Easton’s hero video here.
Darby Baumberger, Assistant Principal, Betty Jane Community Learning Center hero
After being a teacher for 26 years, Darby Baumberger began a new role as a vice principal. On the first day in her new job, she was in the cafeteria overseeing the lunch period. Suddenly, a student started coughing and stood up. Darby quickly walked over and saw the child make the universal sign for choking. Darby lifted the student’s arms above his head and smacked him on the back, to no avail. She realized she had to act quickly and began performing stomach thrusts. Finally, a piece of corn dog flew out of the child’s mouth, and he began to breathe. Emergency services arrived and, after checking the child, said he was fine. Watch Darby’s hero video here.
Lindsey and Nicole Bechter, Cuyahoga Falls heroes
Lindsey and Nichole Bechter are sisters and part-time volleyball referees at Clutch Lanes in Cuyahoga Falls. During a game last summer, a player collapsed on the court. Hearing people yell for someone to call 911, Nicole ran down to the court with her sister close behind. After assessing the situation, the sisters began administering CPR. They continued until emergency services arrived. Watch the Bechter hero video here.
Jim Kuhn, Medina County Public Transit hero
Jim Kuhn was driving the Fixed Route Transit bus in Wadsworth and stopped to pick up one of his regular riders, named Bruce. Bruce was about to step on the bus when he passed out, falling straight back onto the pavement. Concerned Bruce had hit his head, Jim jumped off the bus to help. After finding no head injury, he saw Bruce turning blue. He began to perform chest compressions. Finally, Bruce let out some weak breaths. When first responders arrived on the scene, they were able to find a faint pulse and loaded Bruce in an ambulance. Jim continued his route, hoping he’d done enough. Weeks later, Jim was thrilled to found out Bruce was alive and recovering. Watch Jim’s hero video here .
Aaron Williams, Logan Stinson and Andrew Gauer, Akron Police and Fire Department heroes
On November 25, Akron police officer Aaron Williams was the first responder on the scene of a house fire. Learning there was someone inside, Williams kicked opened the front door and was unable to see clearly, due to the smoke filling the room but heard someone respond to his voice. Officer Williams ran out to catch his breath as firefighter/paramedics Logan Stinson and Andrew Gauer arrived on scene. The men ran back into the smoke-filled house to rescue a wheelchair-bound woman from the first floor. Firefighters arrived shortly after and rescued another individual from the home. Watch the first responder hero video here.
Jennifer Torres, 3rd grade teacher, Anne T. Case Community Learning Center hero
While teaching her third-grade class, Jennifer Torres heard a strange sound and saw one of her students stand up. The student put her hands around her neck, making the universal sign for choking. Jennifer shouted to her students to go get another adult while she rushed to the student’s aid. Jennifer gave the student a few quick stomach thrusts, and a piece of candy flew out of her mouth, and she began to breathe again. Watch Jennifer’s hero video here.
Congratulations to all the winners! Do you know someone who acted in an emergency to help save a life? Share their story with us for possible recognition at upcoming Acts of Courage and Hero awards events across the Northern Ohio Region. And make sure you’re prepared like to help save a life like these heroes! Find a Red Cross training course near you and sign up at RedCross.org/takeaclass.
View photos from the Acts of Courage event.