John O’Rourke thought he was going to die that day at Mondo Ponds. He was holding a 10-year-old boy above the icy water, and he was treading water, but he was running out of energy.

“I thought I was going to die. I thought the boy was going to die,” he said.

He found one last bit of strength and made what he described as one last ditch effort and threw the boy into the air, and the boy fell onto the ice, and the ice held.

O’Rourke recalled that day — it was Feb. 5, 2017 — after accepting the Carnegie Medal for his bravery. Mayor Ben Blake presented the award to O’Rourke during Saturday night’s Kick Off to Summer event in downtown Milford.

O’Rourke had been walking his dog at Mondo Ponds when the boy, playing with friends, fell through the ice and O’Rourke went in after him.

After throwing the boy onto the ice, O’Rourke told him to shimmy across the ice to shore.

O’Rourke, 62, wasn’t able to pull himself out of the water even after he moved closer to shore where the water was chest-deep. Police arrived and pulled him from the pond using a rope and flotation ring.

O’Rourke and the boy were both treated for exposure to cold water, and both recovered.

Mayor Blake also recounted the day as he presented the award before hundreds of people gathered at Lisman Landing for the annual Kick Off to Summer event.

Blake said it was a cold February morning when O’Rourke saw the children playing on the ice and warned them that it was dangerous. But then the ice broke.

“On instinct, he rushed in to get this child,” the mayor said. “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a hero.”

State Rep. Pam Staneski presented O’Rourke with an award, too, on behalf of the state, and the mayor said Congress also sent words of praise about Milford’s hero.

O’Rourke, an unassuming and modest man, spoke briefly. He thanked the police and fire departments. “Because you are the guys who saved my butt that day,” he said.

“One of five people who win this award have died doing it,” O’Rourke added. “I’m very fortunate to be here.”

As the band The Rumrunners prepared to take the stage for the night’s entertainment, O’Rourke offered one more bit of advice to the crowd.

“If any of you are unfortunate enough to come face to face with death, never give in, never give in,” he said.

And the crowd toasted him with applause.

Fire Chief Douglas Edo, also bass player for the band preparing to take the stage, walked up to shake O’Rourke’s hand, and O’Rourke’s wife, Diane, hugged him: It was Edo who nominated O’Rourke for the Carnegie Medal.

The Carnegie Medal is given throughout the United States and Canada to those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others. Since the Pittsburgh-based fund's inception in 1904, 10,009 heroes have been awarded the honor.

The City of Milford also honored O’Rourke last March at City Hall with a proclamation for his bravery. O’Rourke said then that he was most touched by a thank you letter that came from the boy that he rescued that day.

“The mother asked if we could meet,” O’Rourke said. “The boy has two siblings. They all hand wrote me a thank you letter.”
“So sweet,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke lives in Milford and works part time delivering auto parts.

He and his wife often walk their dog, an English Springer Spaniel named Cork, at Mondo Ponds, though Diane wasn’t with him that day last year when the ice broke.

Life hasn’t changed much for the local couple since that day last February. But O’Rourke said he doesn’t go back to that spot on cold days because he doesn’t want to see the frozen pond again.