Central Elementary’s Dempsey Wagner cuts ribbon after helping raise close to $14,000
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – Tammy LeMaster said having a rescue boat at the Lee County Sheriff’s Department on Jan. 3, 2017 wouldn’t have saved her father’s life.
But the current president of Lee County Crimestoppers and daughter of Bill White, Sr., who drowned in the Mississippi River five years ago to the day, said it will someday remove the unknown from another tragedy. LeMaster also lost her cousin Ron Wagner in the same tragic event on a frigid Jan. 3 near Montrose’s riverfront.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber unveiled the 26-foot aluminum boat, dubbed “The Legacy”, at the Lee County Economic Development building Monday afternoon in front of about 50 residents and officials, including U.S. Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
LeMaster said it was a difficult fundraiser with the pandemic trying to get in the way, but she said Crimestoppers, which was the official fundraising arm for the new boat, wasn’t to be deterred.
“It wouldn’t have changed our outcome, however, it would have changed how long we waited,” she said. “It was two months and a day for my dad and three months and a day for my cousin.”
The accident happened Jan. 3 and White’s body was discovered on March 4. Wagner was discovered April 4.
The boat cost more than $50,000 with upgraded rescue equipment including a crane and wench, a rescue basket and state-of-the-art SONAR detection. The boat will be housed in a garage at the sheriff’s department.
Close to $14,000 of the funds came from the most unlikely of sources. Dempsey Wagner, an elementary student at Central Lee, started raising funds in kindergarten by asking people to donate in honor of her birthday.
“Dempsey raised enough money to help us buy that boat right there and upgrade it with the best SONAR you can buy. Give it up for this kid,” Weber said.
Weber said he also has a colored picture on his wall given to him by Dempsey that had her and the sheriff on the boat making a rescue.
Weber said the girl was a hero.
“You know people have heroes… You are my hero – you know that Dempsey Wagner?”
Weber said LeMaster asked him to dedicate the boat on Jan. 3 as that was the day of her father’s tragic accident.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t catch the significance of the date right away,” Weber said. “It took me a day or two but then it occurred to me that Jan. 3 was the anniversary of her father’s death.”
The department also has a trained dive rescue team and the program will now be able to react quickly to emergencies on county rivers and lakes.
Miller-Meeks talked about the fundraising effort of Wagner on CNN as part of an earlier interview she had done with the network in April.
She met Wagner for the first time Monday night.
“It was an honor to finally meet Dempsey after being able to share her story on the House floor back in April. This new rescue boat, along with a trained dive team, has the capability to save many lives on the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers and surrounding Lee County lakes,” Miller-Meeks said.
“This boat will allow the county sheriffs to quickly respond to any emergencies on the water and is a welcome addition to their response, rescue, and recovery operations. It is “Iowa nice” stories like these that make me even more proud to represent places like Lee County and people like Dempsey. I cannot wait to see what Dempsey does next to make our community a better place!”
LeMaster said the past five years has been a trial.
“It’s been walking up Mt. Everest and back down,” she said. “Through all of the process, when we decided to do it, it was that somebody else is not going through this – and then just how are we going to do it.”