"Hero" has different meanings to different people, but the American Red Cross has named seven who define the word by how they live their lives and, in two cases, their deaths.

Saluting Our Heroes, now in its 13th year, will honor the recipients on Nov. 2 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington. The event honors everyday, Central Illinois people who put aside their own needs to help others. The event is sponsored by the American Red Cross Serving Central Illinois.

The winners include Sgt. Joshua Rodgers, an Army Ranger who died in action earlier this year in Afghanistan, and Liz Larson, who saved the life of a child during a rafting trip, but was unable to safe herself.

Others include Maddie Biehl, who twice saved lives on separate occasions using CPR/AED training; Ruby's Rescue & Retreat, which has helped rescue more than 1,000 dogs in the past 12 years; Macon County Deputy Bart Hickey, who risked electrocution when he saved a woman from a burning car; Ryan Heeran, who has helped expand the West Bloomington Revitalization Project's Tool Library; and Kenny Gray, who saved his cousin from choking on a bottle cap.

In addition, WJBC will present its annual Don Munson Spirit of McLean County Award.

"We are amazed by the courage and compassion of this year's heroes," said Lyn Hruska, CEO of American Red Cross Central and Southern Illinois Region. "It is a privilege to share their inspiring stories and help their families honor their heroic actions."

As we've said in the past, heroes deserve to be recognized, even when they don't consider themselves heroes. Recognition not only serves to express the community's gratitude, it also can inspire others.

Our community is a better, safer place because of the efforts of those who know what to do in an emergency, train others and volunteer with youth groups or in community projects. It’s not just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. No one knows when they might be called upon to help. Each of us can be ready by taking basic first aid and CPR-AED classes. That’s part of volunteerism, too.

Heroism can be large or small, a one-time event or a lifelong dedication to a cause. The winners of this year's Saluting Our Heroes event are representative of the heroes in our everyday lives and provide examples of what each of us can do to make this a better community.

We congratulate and thank all the winners and encourage everyone to consider how they can make a difference in someone's life. All you have to do is step forward.  

Tickets for the Saluting Our Heroes breakfast are $35 and available at www.redcross.org/salutingourheroestickets, by phone at 309-662-0500 or by emailing Abigail.Craft@redcross.org. Doors will open at 7 a.m. The program begins at 7:30 a.m.

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