When Annie FitzGerald and Laurel Burkett went down to the beach during their vacation in Long Beach, Mich. a few weekends ago, they got a little more than a tan.

Sitting on shore, the two OPRF High School girls (FitzGerald’s a sophomore, Burkett is a freshman) noticed an older man on an inflatable chair fairly far out in the water with his granddaughter. They didn’t think much of it-until they noticed him jump off the chair.

“We looked over a little later and saw the chair was much further away and his granddaughter was gone,” FitzGerald said.

When they went for a swim a few minutes later, they went by the man. Treading water but not moving much, he asked them how far he was from being able to stand.

“‘Oh, like 7 to 10 feet,’ we told him,” FitzGerald recalled. “We went to try to go get his chair, but it was too far out, so we went back to what we were doing-swimming or something.”

But after about 10 minutes, they looked back out and saw he was barely above the water.

“He was just splashing,” FitzGerald said.

So Burkett and FitzGerald grabbed an inner tube they had on the beach and swam it out to him.

“He put his elbow up [on the inner tube], but just flipped off,” FitzGerald said. “I started freaking out.”

The girls kept cool enough, however, to tell the man to hold on to the tube’s rope so they could pull him in to the sandbar, where he could stand and they could walk him in.

When the man got to shore, he walked up the beach to his wife and collapsed.

When paramedics soon arrived, they determined the man, who was in his 70s, was suffering from exhaustion and had possibly taken water into his lungs.

Without the girls’ help, the man probably wouldn’t have made it back to shore, paramedics said.

Burkett and FitzGerald never learned their rescuee’s name, but earned the extreme gratitude of his family.

“It felt good to have his wife come over and thank us,” Burkett said. “She called us her ‘guardian angels.'”

Hairdresser to the rescue

Burkett and FitzGerald aren’t the only Oak Parkers who have been lending a heroic hand.

When Kathleen Wrobel took a spill walking home from Prairie Bread Kitchen on Marion the same weekend, she knew she was in trouble.

“You know how when you fall and someone says, ‘Can I help you?’ and you heroically respond ‘Oh no, thanks, I’m fine’?” Wrobel said in an e-mail. “Well, I wasn’t fine.”

But as soon as she fell, three “wonderful people appeared” to help her up: two women and a man, by Wrobel’s estimate in their early 40s.

She held on to the construction fence along Marion and made her way to Lake Street, but was concerned she wasn’t going to be able to make it much farther than that.

As she was “gathering the courage” to cross Lake to get to her condo at Harlem and Ontario, she heard a voice behind her ask, “Are you OK?”

She found her hairdresser, Anthony Galigo, standing right behind her.

Galigo, who owns Anthony Peter Salon on North Marion Street, helped her walk across the street and sit outside of Barbara’s Bookstore, then went to get his car and drove her home.

“He helped me up the stairs, and he made an ice pack for me, then he went back to work,” Wrobel said.

Since then, she’s been to the doctor and diagnosed with a hairline fracture to her tibia, and has gotten a permanent cast-all with help from people from her church, Grace Lutheran in River Forest, where she’s also the church’s secretary.

“I’ve been bombarded with tender love and care,” said Wrobel, who lives by herself. “It’s very hard to be on the receiving end of kindness-you’re very humbled.”

Wrobel hasn’t been able to return to work in the week and a half since her accident, but she said someone from Grace is going to outfit her computer so that she can work from home.

“Healing is hard work, it really is,” Wrobel said.

Hometown hospitality

Richard Feldman hasn’t saved anyone recently, but he has another admirable habit: showing tourists around Oak Park and River Forest.

Recently, Feldman was riding the el back into Oak Park when he noticed a man across the aisle looking at a map.

“I just made an assumption that he wanted to see Frank Lloyd Wright,” Feldman said.

He struck up a conversation, and the man with the map introduced himself as Richard Downing, who was visiting the area from Ft. Lauderdale with his wife, Eileen.

“I told them, ‘I’m parked real close to the train, I can give you a lift-it’s kind of a walk.'”

They accepted, and he took them for what Downing referred to in an e-mail as the “Grand Tour” of Oak Park and River Forest.

The tour consisted mostly of Wright buildings, starting in River Forest and working their way back to Oak Park.

Feldman said this isn’t the first time he’s done this kind of thing by a long shot. Over the years, he’s done it several dozen times.

“I’m an interior designer by trade-architecture has always been my interest,” he said. “I used to bore my kids to death with it.”

Taking people on these impromptu tours also has its benefits. Aside from the fact that Feldman said all his experiences have been overwhelmingly positive, Downing-a U.S. Customs worker-was so grateful he shipped Feldman a Customs hat and sent a glowing e-mail to the Village Board of Trustees about his experience in Oak Park.

Above all else, though, Feldman feels he’s doing his part for society.

“I don’t do enough for charity. I figure I can do this at least,” Feldman said. “I hope that most of us would do this for people who want to see this wonderful place we live in-it’s just a little blip that can make somebody’s life that much more meaningful.”

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Ben Meyerson

Ben was Wednesday Journal's crime, parks, and River Forest reporter, until he kept bugging us enough to promote him. Now he's managing two of Wednesday Journal's sister papers in the city, Chicago Journal...