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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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040721frontGeltz.jpg

Tim Geltz

Tim Geltz Is Hero Who Saved Drowning Man

Issue Date: April 7, 2021

Tim Geltz, owner of Geltz Construction in Porterfield, has been identified as the anonymous hero who saved an out-of-town walleye fisherman from drowning in the icy waters of the Peshtigo River shortly before 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 31.

Sometimes truth is far stranger than fiction, and it is in this case. The thermometer read 33 degrees, and the waters of the swift-flowing Peshtigo River were probably no warmer. The throngs of fishermen in the river trying to catch their limit of walleye were almost all wearing winter jackets under their waders, as were the hero of this story and the young man he saved.

Dale Gusick of Pound witnessed the whole thing and was able to write a Letter to the Editor in time for same-day publication in the Peshtigo Times.

In the letter, Gusick wrote: "I saw a hero today, he was wearing waders and a lime green sweatshirt, and I don't know who you are. I watched another fisherman just upstream from you slip and fall into the Peshtigo River. He struggled for a few seconds, then started floating downstream. I watched from the opposite side of the river (from) where you were.

"I watched as you told him to swim towards shore, he didn't. I watched you as you waded into deeper waters and implored him to grab your hand, he couldn't. I watched you step deeper and grab him and eventually help him to shore, where you helped him to his feet, and to live his life.

"Yes, I watched a hero today on the Peshtigo River, and you Sir, need to be recognized. Thank you for your brave efforts to help this man," Gusick continued and then concluded: "To all fishermen, please be careful at this time of the year on the Peshtigo River. While the water level is down a bit, the currents still run strong."

At about the same time Gusick was writing his letter and getting it sent for publication, Geltz was warming up with a cup of coffee at his favorite filling station in Marinette, and meeting the man whose life he had saved. The meeting was totally accidental, unplanned, and unexpected.

Here is the story of the day as Geltz told it in an e-mail message to friends and family:

"Last Wednesday I had a one-in-a-lifetime event happen to me.  I saved a man from drowning""..  I had my waders on and was going to where I usually go to fish, but for some reason, I changed my mind and went on the other side of the river.

"I followed the path to the waters and found a man around 25 to 30 years old fishing. We fished silently until I heard some noise where he was and looked over. ...His back was facing the river, his hands went up and his pole went through the air.  He was thrashing in the water as I kept yelling "stand up.. stand up. Not a word from him. And as he kept thrashing he was pulling himself farther out deeper in the current.

"When he was out 20 feet in front of me I realized the only part of his body out of the water was his head. I prayed "JESUS,' and ran out to get him. He was not moving his arms anymore and the water was at his mouth.

"I grabbed his hood and it ripped off. I tossed it and grabbed his collar and pulled him in to shore. As I did, I looked at the other fishermen (on the other side) and they were watching. It was like I was in a movie.

"I sat him on a log underwater. He could not stand up. His jaw was shaking as well as his body from hyperthermia. He never said a word" I got him to his feet and told him he needed warm clothes and a hot shower. He looked for his pole and I said it's gone, don't worry about it. He left.

"Now I am wet and cold and need a hot cup of coffee. This all happens in Peshtigo. I go to Marinette to a gas station and am making a cup of coffee when guess who walks in? The guy with his dad," Geltz went on.

He said the man had warm clothes in his hand and went to the bathroom to change without seeing him. "The man's dad was at the coffee area " when he looks at me, I say "How's it going?' He says my son fell in the water. I say I know I was there. I pulled him out of the water. His eyes teared up and he said "Oh my God! He had a seizure!'

Geltz concluded, "I can still see his eyes of fear like a scared animal as I pulled him out. The adrenalin rush and whole event was quite emotional for me."

Geltz said for the next few days he was shaking and kept seeing the fishermen lined up on the other side of the river watching. "Normally in the water, I am slow and klutzy and stumble a lot, but when he drifted past me, I ran," he added. He said amazingly, when it was all over, he realized he was still holding his own fishing pole in his other hand. His insulated waders covered him up to his armpits, and only the sleeves of his jacket were wet. Another strange part is that he was not afraid at the time. That came later.

Geltz called Gusick after seeing his letter in the paper. Gusick, who witnessed the whole thing, told Geltz when he saw him go out into that deep water, he thought they were going to have two bodies.

Geltz said the near victim's jacket was saturated with water before he got to him, and it weighed him down like an anchor. Geltz is built far smaller than the man he managed to save, "...but when he was in the water I just dragged him out like nothing.... normally I'm pretty klutzy in the water, but with the adrenalin rush, when he floated past me, I ran. You react, you don't think." After Geltz reached the confused victim he helped him stand up and get out of the water.

Geltz is not sure why the father and son ended up at the same filling station in Marinette as he did. He had gone there because "We're creatures of habit." That station is where he has his business gas account, knows the coffee machines, and knows the manager. He'd had enough excitement for one day.

Geltz said he couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the near-victim and his father there, and again it was like he was a player in a movie. When he told the father that he is the person who saved the son from drowning the man's eyes teared up, he stuck his hand out and started thanking him over and over. His son, now wearing dry clothes, came out of the restroom, recognized him, and also began to repeatedly thank him. Geltz said the two were from out of town and had come to Peshtigo just for fishing. He's not sure why they ended up at the filling station in Marinette.

Geltz is the owner of Geltz Construction, which he operates from his home in Porterfield. He grew up in Elgin, Il., and came here to help build his brother's house, met his wife Lori, who lived in Marinette at the time, and just stayed. He built their house in Porterfield in 1988. On Tuesday, April 13 they will celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary.

They have a grown son, Dan, who is food manager for a retirement facility in Minnesota; a daughter, Stephanie Lorenz, who teaches pre-school in Peshtigo, and one granddaughter, 6-year-old Eleanor.

He does not think there's a connection but finds it perhaps more than a coincidence that during the time he spent as a youth group leader at United Methodist Church in Marinette he was often treasurer in charge of finances for trips to various places to help out at homeless shelters, etc.

Generally, the return trip home included a big breakfast for youth group members and the parents who accompanied them. That could be very expensive, perhaps a couple of hundred dollars, he said. Once, when he went to pay the bill he was told it had already been paid. The waitress said a man sitting nearby had overheard them talking about the work they were doing as a youth group. He wanted to pay for their breakfast in commemoration of his daughter, who had drowned on a youth group trip.

A dedicated fisherman, Geltz said he regularly fishes under the dam in Marinette, mainly for trout and walleye. "My wife and I eat a lot of fish," he chuckled. When he started fishing walleye during the run-in Peshtigo years ago, "before the herd came," there were only a handful of fishermen and he would often get 50 walleye. All that changed when word got out about the good fishing in Peshtigo and people began coming from everywhere to bag their limits.

Geltz said he fishes a lot, but Wednesday was the first time he'd gone fishing this year. Another strange part is that he chose to fish that day at a spot where he never goes. There was a whole line of men where he usually fishes, so "Instead, I went down by this guy fishing alone." Had he been fishing from his regular spot on the other side, there would be no survivor story to tell.






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