LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) ------- "The Jefferson Awards" is the Nobel prize for public service and a prestigious award that honors volunteers in the community.
This month we recognize Vicky Gunderson, a woman who uses her daily pain to advocate, educate and save lives.
She smiles and laughs a lot. After spending time with her though, you quickly learn that it helps hide her pain.
It was a moment that night that took him. Vicky's son Kirk died when he committed suicide in the La Crosse County Jail.
That may seem like the end of a very sad story, but it's actually the beginning of a long road of trying to understand what went wrong
"It began once he couldn't play sports anymore. He loved hockey....so once we said no more contact sports. Dealing with pain, depression and other teenage problems, Kirk turned to cigarettes and alcohol and eventually prescription drugs," she says.
But that wasn't what took him to jail. Kirk's father and brother were at home one night when the troubled teen snapped.
"A comment was made that he had something to drink in a two hour period so his dad told him he needed the keys...he wasn't going to let him drive ... So they walked out....got the keys from the car ....stepped into the kitchen .....and Kirk grabbed the knife out of our knife block and started stabbing Kermit and Jay....multiple times......they ended up down the hall in the back bedroom.
Kirk called his mother from his car somewhere near Prairie du Chien.
Vicky pleaded with him to call 911 and turn himself in. "I said pull in to a very well lit place and call 911 and they will send their closest people to you and then he called me back. That's the hardest part of the whole story and said mom, I called them and their going to come and take me. At that point they arrested him and transported him up here.
Vicky says that was the last mother and son moment between them.
And now she had to worry about her husband and son.
"I had no idea what I was coming home to. We got to the hospital about 2 in the morning and there were chaplains and my parents. We all just thought I had lost both of them."
But she didn't. Father and son are ok. As for Kirk-reminders of him are in the form of angel figurines and she keeps him alive by doing what she says he would want her to do.
Vicky is trying to change the law in Wisconsin by advocating against teens being in jails with adults.
She is an active with the Suicide Coalition and she encourages families going through the same thing to stick together. "You just need to surround yourself with people who can help you find that one moment to hang in there."
To nominate someone.....go to wxow.com and click on the Jefferson Awards tab.