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Bob Lind, Published February 09 2013

Lind: Mentor man a reminder that many decent, heroic people do exist

News reports often are top-heavy with stories about criminals. But let’s not forget that many decent and even heroic people are out there.

One of them is Wes Michaels, of Mentor, Minn., east of Crookston.

Mavis Hettervig, of Hillsboro, N.D., sent in clippings about him from the Valley Journal, Halstad, Minn., and The Forum, as a reminder of what he did.

Wes’ story goes back to 1976. He was 24 then, and living in Fertile, Minn., where one day a railroad propane tanker sprung a leak and a spark caused a huge explosion.

A house near the tracks burned down. Flames from the wreckage were seen 20 miles away.

The tanker, meanwhile, blasted off like a rocket, flew 600 feet and took off a corner of a house, the walls of another house and flattened a car it landed on.

The good news is that nobody was killed. In fact, only one person was injured: Wes Michaels.

Wes had just walked out of the house where he lived when the tanker flew by, missing him by inches. The force of the wind from the passing tanker pushed him back into the doorway. He received several bruises but otherwise he was OK.

Then, 34 years later, a tornado struck his business.

Flying shrapnel

Wes went on to own a Cenex gas station/convenience store in Mentor where, in June 2010, the tornado ripped through.

It was Wes’ 58th birthday, so his daughter, Heidi Michaels, 25, a teacher in Climax, Minn., had volunteered to work at the store so her dad could have the day off.

But Wes heard tornado warnings, so he went to the store to alert Heidi and her customers of the potential danger.

Then he checked outside, saw the tornado coming and ran back inside to tell the customers to take shelter in the walk-in cooler.

They barely made it when the tornado hit.

Wes, seeing his daughter hadn’t got to the cooler, threw himself over her to protect her.

The store virtually exploded, sending razor-sharp shrapnel flying.

Heidi received minor injuries. Her life was saved, thanks to her father.

But he, hit by many shards while protecting her, was killed.

A hero

As Eric Bergeson wrote in the Journal at the time, “Wes died a true hero, a working man of the first class who did his duty though it cost him his life.”

Yes, there are people around who do evil. But there also are people like Wes Michaels who, as Eric said, are true heroes.

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