Gaylen Schmidt never considered himself a hero for his actions during the Souris River flood last year, but everyone around him disagrees.
Schmidt, who runs all the crews that clean the bathrooms at the North Dakota State Fair, received the 2012 Summer of Hope Hero Award from the Long Term Recovery Committee Friday afternoon.
Renae Korslien, general manager of the North Dakota State Fair, said the award stems from an incident that almost swamped the entire State Fair Center during the flood. Korslien said crews were getting overwhelmed after the Souris River left its banks, and the dike between the State Fair Center and Expo Barn was getting worn away by the strong current.
Gaylen Schmidt, center, accepts the 2012 Summer of Hope Hero Award from the Long Term Recovery Committee at the North Dakota State Fair Friday. To the left is Renae Korslien, general manager of the North Dakota State Fair, and to the right is Connie Philipenko, director of Souris Valley Long Term Recovery.
A plan to place tarps on the dike to stop the erosion was devised, but someone had to actually go into the water to secure them in the middle of the night.
"Gaylen said I'll do it, I'll go," Korslien said. "So they tied a rope around Gaylen, they put him down in the water where the current was horrible."
Schmidt was pulled under the water's surface three separate times. The current was so vicious Korslien said that it actually ripped Schmidt's shoes and socks off.
"He was in the water for three hours putting this tarp down," Korslien said. "But it saved the State Fair Center."
"He is our hero," she added. "He saved that place."
Schmidt said the incident occurred at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, and the first few people he called to help weren't able to come. After a few more calls, he found some help.
"They met us with a boat and we went in," Schmidt said. "There was helicopters flying over dropping sandbags and it was quite an ordeal."
Schmidt said the levee was washing away pretty quickly when they got there, and everyone did what was needed to save the State Fair Center.
As he accepted the award, Schmidt was quick to point out it wasn't just him down there that morning.
"It wasn't just me, it was the whole crew involved with the State Fair," Schmidt said. "I appreciate everything they've done for me over here, and I look forward to being here next year."
Korslien couldn't praise Schmidt enough for the bravery and determination he displayed that night. While Schmidt said he was just doing what needed to be done, Korslien knew just how important going into the water and getting those tarps down was.
"We would have lost that State Fair Center if that hadn't have happened," Korslien said. "So he's pretty important to us."