Community

Freedom Fest to honor three men for community contributions

Tribute to Heroes dinner recognizes three area residents' service

Hal Garwood demonstrates a move called the “Krueger”  during the Iowa Skippers Jump Rope camp at Taft Middle School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. Hal Garwood has been promoting youth exercise through the Iowa Skippers for over thirty years. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Hal Garwood demonstrates a move called the “Krueger” during the Iowa Skippers Jump Rope camp at Taft Middle School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. Hal Garwood has been promoting youth exercise through the Iowa Skippers for over thirty years. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Overseas, in the gym and on the road, three area men have made an impact on the Cedar Rapids community and will be honored at this year’s Freedom Festival for their contributions.

Veteran Dennis Kendrick, retired teacher Hal Garwood and apartment complex manager Arturo Melendez are this year’s Tribute to Heroes Dinner honorees. Former Olympic gold medalist and Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable will be the keynote speaker at the dinner, which will be held June 14 at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, 7725 Kirkwood Blvd. SW. There will be a social and a silent auction before the dinner and ceremony.

“It’s a really feel-good event,” Freedom Festival events and marketing director Carissa Johnson said. “It’s a great way to kick off the festival.”

This year’s honorees were nominated by area residents and selected by the Freedom Festival board.

Dennis Kendrick

After being wounded four times in combat during the Vietnam War, Kendrick dedicates his retirement to ensuring veterans receive top-notch treatment in their everyday lives.

Kendrick has spent decades of his life in service to others, first when he was drafted into the Army after graduating high school and later as a Cedar Rapids firefighter for nearly 30 years.

“I just really enjoy life,” he said. “I’m very fortunate that all the times I was wounded were minor.”

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Now, he works with American Legion Post 298. Kendrick will be taking over in July as sergeant-at-arms, a position he previously held for three years, coordinating funerals, flag presentations and parades.

The Marion resident is the recipient of four purple hearts.

“I’m not a hero,” he said. “The 22 buddies I lost in Vietnam — those are my heroes.”

Hal Garwood

To former students, Garwood is a hero for his role in their lives as an educator.

Garwood taught physical education at Truman Elementary School, Van Buren Elementary School and Jackson Elementary School. He worked with kids to organize a group at Van Buren that performed the tinikling, a Philippine dance, across the state.

“I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of graduation parties and many former students’ weddings,” he said. “They all talk about the fun they had in my physical education class.”

Today, Garwood remains involved with the Iowa Skippers, a group he helped found for kids to jump rope that represents the American Heart Association. He also is a Vietnam War veteran.

“I didn’t deserve to be nominated that was my first thought,” he said. “There are so many people in Cedar Rapids that are heroes every day by their contributions to the community, the kids, and to our life in general.”

Arturo Melendez

While he was on his way to work one day last December, Melendez had to act fast to save a woman’s life.

The Marion resident found Vicki Witte in distress on the side of Highway 13. She was not moving, so he pulled over and broke her window to perform CPR on her, despite only knowing it from what he had seen on TV.

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“It felt really good to be able to help someone like that,” he said. “It helps my self-esteem. It helps me feel good about myself.”

Witte nominated Melendez for noticing she was having a heart attack and working to keep her alive until help could arrive. Their relationship remains close, Melendez said, as the two still speak and refer to each other as brother and sister.

“The main thing is she is alive,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I was nominated or not nominated. The feeling just to be able to help her, it was amazing.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8332; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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