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James Wilke

James Wilke with his grandson, Breckin

COLUMBUS — A 50-year-old Platte County farmer is being heralded as a hero and remembered as a loving family member and friend by many in the community.

A Columbus-area native, James Wilke died Thursday in floodwaters near his home, his cousin, Paul Wilke, confirmed Friday.

“He was very generous, giving, very involved with everything,” Paul Wilke said. “He has always been one who gets involved and gets things done.”

James Wilke died attempting to rescue others in need, the first confirmed flood-related death in the state.

Working with emergency responders to assist a motorist trapped by floodwaters, Paul Wilke noted, James Wilke drove his tractor over the Shell Creek bridge on Monastery Road, but the bridge collapsed, and James was caught in the floodwaters.

His body was found in a nearby creek bed.

Paul Wilke said his cousin was a lifelong farmer, adding James was a great cattle feeder and always got “very good yields” when it came to his crops.

James Wilke also served as an elder at Christ Lutheran Church in north Columbus, one of the youngest members to serve in the leadership position.

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James Wilke was also highly supportive of Columbus Lakeview Community Schools. Its board president, Keith Runge, grew up just down the road from Wilke and praised his longtime friend.

“Words can’t describe what he means to his family and the community,” Runge said, noting their sons are the best of friends. “He was a great family person, very religious and someone who supported the community any time he could.”

Paul Wilke said the death of his cousin, who he said he considered a brother, has been hard on the entire family, including James’ wife and children. But, he said, they are appreciative of the community’s support and kind words shared about James.

“That was the kind of person James was — if he got the call from someone needing help, he was going to help somebody,” Paul Wilke said.

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