NISSWA -- Two anglers who worked to save the life of a 79-year-old Brainerd man whose car had broken through the ice Feb. 4 were honored Saturday by the city of Nisswa.
Jay Anderson, 28, Shell Lake, Wis., and Larry Mortenson, Nisswa, both received the Citizen's Award of Valor -- the highest honor the city of Nisswa could give them -- for helping to save the life of Kent E. Johnson. A ceremony was held Saturday morning at Nisswa City Hall.
Anderson, who had been staying at Cragun's Resort with 27 family members, happened to be riding his snowmobile about 1:15 p.m. Feb. 4 north of Holman Point Drive and about a quarter-mile west of the Gull Lake public access near Hole-In-The-Day Bay when he spotted a mostly submerged Pontiac Bonneville. He found Johnson splashing around inside the vehicle.
He flagged down Mortenson, who was driving on the ice on his way out to his fish house, for help. Mortenson, a 28-year-old route salesman for Old Dutch and a First Responder for almost eight years, drove home a half-mile away, called 911 and returned to the scene.
This was the scene Feb. 4 after Kent Johnson's car plunged through the ice of Gull Lake while he was heading out ice fishing. The two men who helped save him -- Jay Anderson of Shell Lake, Wis., and Larry Mortenson of Nisswa -- were honored by the city of Nisswa on Saturday for their heroics. (Dispatch Photo by Steve Kohls)
Meanwhile, Anderson, a machinist and a volunteer firefighter, crawled up to the car but was afraid if he got near it the vehicle would sink. So he went to a nearby lake home and grabbed a dock section. He slid the wood up to the vehicle so it would support his weight and opened the car door. With Crow Wing County Deputy Rob Johnston's help, they were able to pull Johnson out of the icy water.
Since the ambulance could not be driven onto the ice, Mortenson drove Johnson to shore.
When a soaking wet Anderson returned to his hotel room, he had quite the tale to tell his family.
"I can still see Jay's face when he first walked in that door," said his grandmother, Florence Millard, Spooner, Wis. "He was afraid that the man wouldn't make it."
Grand View Lodge provided free lodging for the weekend for Anderson and 12 of his family members to attend Saturday's ceremony at city hall. The two men were honored by Mayor Harold Kraus, city staff, Nisswa police, the Nisswa Fire Department, the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce and the Nisswa First Responders. They were both presented with gift certificates to Morey's from the Nisswa chamber and Morey's.
"Jay and Larry, thank you very much for being there when it counted," said Police Chief Ron Seliski.
"It's easy for people put in that position to say, 'Anyone would do this,'" said Kraus. "But unfortunately that is not the case."
Ironically, Anderson wouldn't have been driving his sled across the ice at that time and found Johnson trapped in his sinking car if he and his cousin hadn't received a $60 citation from the DNR earlier that day. They had been cited in front of Cragun's for leaving their tip-ups out on the ice while they went inside to warm up. So instead of fishing there that afternoon, Anderson jumped on his sled to find his dad who was fishing on Hole-In-The-Day Bay.
Also, almost exactly a year earlier it was Mortenson who had to be transported by pick-up off the ice to an awaiting ambulance. He had been fishing in the annual Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake in Walker when he slipped and broke his hip. He spent four months recovering from his injuries.
Anderson has received a lot of attention for his ice rescue back in Shell Lake, a Wisconsin town with a population of about 1,000 people. He received a letter from Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson for his heroic efforts.
"It's nice. This means a lot," Anderson said of the Nisswa award.
"This feels great," added Mortenson. "It's Jay that did everything. I just happened to be there, too. I think anybody would have done it."
Crow Wing County Deputy Rob Johnston and Nisswa Police Officer Jason Boelter will be honored for their efforts in the ice rescue by the sheriff's department and Nisswa police at a later date.
The victim, Johnson, is recovering at his Brainerd home.
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