By Kate Klimesh,
On June 24, a young man saved a young girl, 9-year-old Cecelia Strong, from the fast-moving waters of the Turkey River by Elgin. Dallas Matt, 23, of Arizona, was visiting his father, Tom Matt, in Elgin with his fiancé, Christina Meyer, and her family from Illinois.
Having grown up along the Turkey River in that location, Dallas knew its power, and stated “It was not uncommon for us to help people out of a jam along the river.” Dallas started school in the North Fayette School District, and spent many summers with his dad along the river.
On the afternoon of June 24, Dallas and his family had taken their UTVs for a drive along the river to hang out on the sandbar and visit, surrounded by the beautiful natural scenery. Dallas noted they had passed a group of tubers on the river, and parked near some kayakers pulled up on the shore.
“We were there five minutes, and saw the group of tubers float down, but the little girl was far ahead of the tubers and got caught on the very large log jam on the opposite side of the river. She was holding on for dear life and her tube had slipped out from underneath her in the heavy current.” Dallas reported he started heading toward the riverbank, as he recognized the little girl was in distress.
“The kayakers kept telling her to hold on, and one of the tubers was trying to float over to her to get her to safety. I knew that was a bad idea, because if it pulled her in, he would get stuck as well. By then, my feet were already in the water.” As soon as the tuber made his way to where Cecelia was, his tube “went flying” and he found himself in a fight with the current as well, holding on to brush and logs in the log jam.
Dallas reacted quickly, sprinting across the river, and swimming to a safe area ahead of the log jam. He pushed himself out of the river onto the log jam, and saw the girl go under the water. He quickly made his way to where they were holding on when Cecelia popped out of the water. Dallas was able to save the girl, pulling her onto the shore by her life vest (which he credits with keeping her popping above the waterline for air after the current pulled her under) and then proceeded to help the man stuck in the current out of the river as well.
The three-some walked at least 6 feet to the riverbank, and then found a safer landing where the rescued tubers met back up with their party – safely. The group had to use a log to help mow down the heavy brush and weeds along the riverbank as they made their way to the landing.
“If it wasn’t for Dallas,” remarked Strong, “I would have died.” Explaining his side of the event, Dallas stated, “My adrenaline kicked in, and once they were safe, I sort of left, swam back across the river and we all just went home. That was enough time on the river for the day.”
The tubing group did reconnect and with Dallas through social media, and they met up the following day at the Skip-A-Way Campground, where the tubing group was camping, to say thank you. “It was great to see them all safe and together the next day,” Dallas added.
Dallas’ grandmother, Connie Arnburg of Decorah, relayed how proud she was of her grandson’s bravery. Dallas was a 2016 Decorah High School graduate before graduating from the University of Iowa and moving to Arizona. His mother is Pam Irons, of Decorah.