Burlington teacher, coach, fires up her community
BY DENISE MORAN For Sun-Times Media
Deb Twenhafel, left, gets ready to give Jenna Kurosky a driving lesson after school. | CAROL DORSETT ~ FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Shortly after Deb Twenhafel of Burlington began work as a volunteer emergency medical technician, her crew answered a call for a 7-day-old baby who was not breathing.
“We got him breathing after starting CPR,” Twenhafel recalled. “We managed to keep him alive until we got to the hospital where the doctors and nurses took over.”
Four years later at an outdoor function, Twenhafel was approached by a woman and a little boy.
“The lady asked the boy if he knew who I was,” Twenhafel said. “She explained to him that I was the one who had saved his life. Boy, was that a neat feeling.”
Eleven years later that same boy, then a student at Central High School in Burlington, was enrolled in a first aid class taught by Twenhafel.
During the class, Twenhafel asked her students if they could guess which one of their fellow classmates was the one she had once saved. When he raised his hand, everyone cheered.
“I always tell that story in my first aid class so kids will know how important it is to know CPR,” Twenhafel said.
Today, Twenhafel is a 32-year veteran of teaching at Central High, and is the department chairperson of the physical education, health and driver education department. She is an EMT, paramedic and deputy chief of the Burlington Community Fire Protection District. She works with a church youth group. And she started and still coaches the school’s boys’ and girls’ golf teams.
Mary Lake, who was named as the 2012 Burlington Citizen of the Year for her volunteer work, said Twenhafel’s multi-level involvement in school and community inspired her to become a volunteer.
“Deb is a selfless person who has given to her students above and beyond the call,” Lake said. “I can say that because my son, Brendon, was one of her students at one time, plus she is my neighbor.”
Twenhafel said that she was inspired to become a volunteer by Burlington Lionness member Lynne Kuhn.
“She had been a member for five years before I joined,” Twenhafel said. “She told me all the things that the Lions and Lionness clubs do for our community, and I was sold.”
“Deb is a lovely person to work with,” said Central High Principal Matthew Haug. “She cares for the kids tremendously. Our school colors are blue and white. Deb bleeds blue.”
“When I was first hired, I was asked to teach driver education,” Twenhafel said. “Driving in the car is a much more informal atmosphere, and it is much easier to get to know the kids. Driver education teachers understand that teaching their students how to drive is unlike any other class. I tell parents and students it is the most important class they will ever take. In a math class, if you make a mistake, you take an eraser and erase the mistake. You can’t do that when you are driving. Hopefully it’s a fender bender and nothing more serious.”
Twenhafel also enjoys the coaching. A golfer since age 18, she is currently teaching her 7-year-old niece how to play the game.
“Golf is a sport that everyone should learn how to play because you can play this sport your entire life,” Twenhafel said. “There is no age restriction.”
Central High asked Twenhafel to start a boys and girls golf team 24 years ago.
“I have coached the team for 22 years,” Twenhafel said. “I took two years off, but I missed it so much that I had to go back. I have had five boys play golf in junior college and three at a 4-year college. One of them has tried out for the (pro) tour, and one is going to be a teaching pro. I have been very fortunate to have a girls’ team every year. I have had three girls play golf in college.”
In 2010 when the Central golf team qualified for the first time for the Class 2A state finals at Illinois State University’s Weibring Golf Club in Normal. They finished ninth as a team.
“I have had two boys and two girls go down as individuals, but never as a team,” Twenhafel said. “That was something I wanted to achieve before I retired. The boys on the 2010 team accomplished that for me.”
As far as the fire department, Twenhafel said she was inspired by Rod and Sue Berna, Sharon Thompson, Larry Ormond, and Rich Herrmann.
“They were the only people on the ambulance in Burlington at the time I joined. Those five ran the department 24 hours a day seven days a week. That is dedication to the community, because when you are on call, you have to stay in Burlington. You don’t go to any neighboring town for dinner. It still amazes me that those five people ran the department purely as volunteers. They did it for the gratification of helping others.”
Twenhafel started with the Burlington Community Fire Protection District as a volunteer EMT in 1983. She became assistant EMS director in 1985, EMS director in 1989, and a paramedic in 1994. When the fire and ambulance departments were combined in 1996, Twenhafel was promoted to deputy chief.
“I think most of the general public appreciates what the fire department does for their community, but I don’t think they know that we sure don’t do it for the money,” Twenhafel said. “We get paid minimum wage if we are on a shift, which lasts 12 hours. If there is an accident or fire call, we get $10 for however long the call goes, which sometimes lasts for hours. Most of us have other full-time jobs.”
“If you get a call in the middle of the night, you still have to get up the next morning and go to your full-time job. We go through the same training as a full-time firefighter or paramedic. There’s no slack for a part-timer. So when we go on a call, it’s because we want to help others. We are a dedicated group of individuals who love serving our community.”
Twenhafel also has worked with the youth group at St. John Lutheran Church in Burlington for 14 years.
“I love working with kids whether at school or church,” Twenhafel said. “I have always tried to keep them involved in the church because kids need to understand that you never outgrow God.”