Fate moves in wise and wondrous ways. Polly Geurink tells of answering a phone call a year ago at Iowa Memorial Granite Co., a business that she and her husband, Randall, operate in Muscatine. The caller, a stranger from Indiana, inquired about a memorial stone that he wanted to be placed in Walcott. Polly is the friendly, talkative type. Names were traded and — of all improbable moments — it came to be that the caller was the firefighter who saved the life of Polly and her twin sister, Peggy, 54 years ago.
The firefighter’s name was Dennis Dietz. Polly says her reaction was, “I am talking over the phone to my real life hero.”
On June 14, Polly and her twin, Peggy Slattery of Calamus, were face-to-face with their hero when he visited Walcott. They hugged and thanked him for saving their lives. “We wouldn’t be standing here on this ground without you. We wouldn’t be alive,” said Polly.
The lives of the 3-year-old twins were saved by Dietz, a 21-year-old firefighter, on Oct. 23, 1960. The girls, daughters of Warren and Marilyn Dengler, lived in a farmhouse south of Walcott. Mom had driven to Credit Island Park to pick up her sons, who had been on an afternoon hot dog cookout. Dad had come in from the fields to take a nap.
The girls were upstairs napping when the farmhouse caught on fire and filled with heavy smoke. Dad was nearly asphyxiated by dense smoke as flames roared up a wall toward the upstairs. He reached the phone, Polly says, but the wires had been burned. Neighbors hurried to the burning house.
“It was a bad fire; everyone was worried about us, the twins,” says Polly. “The smoke was terrible. We couldn’t breathe. They found me in my crib under a pillow and blankets. We were so scared. My twin sister had climbed out of the crib and was hiding under a big bed.”
"I know he raised a ladder to the second story and found me under covers. I was located first and Dietz took me down the ladder to my anxious parents on the ground. Other firefighters found my twin — in all that smoke — under the bed."
The twins, coughing from the smoke and very frightened, were not injured.
The women and their rescuer met at the Walcott Cemetery as the Dietz family marker was put in place.
”It was such a coincidence that I met my real-life hero," Polly says, "I call it divine intervention."
“To add to the coincidences, the man who saved our lives and my sister and I share the same birthday, July 15, which is next Tuesday,” she adds.