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Principal just jumped in

Union Leader Correspondent

May 14. 2013 10:34PM

ROCHESTER — Chris Brown said he will be eternally grateful to Gonic School Principal Gwen Rhodes for going into the icy Cocheco River to save his autistic son.

"She didn't even give it a second thought," Brown said, adding he still has nightmares about the January day his son, now 11, fell through thin ice after running into the woods behind the elementary school during a morning break.

"It was up to his chin and he was going down (under the water)," Brown said.

Rhodes — among those being honored today at 3 p.m. in front of the State House in Concord with a Union Leader Hero Award — and special education teacher Colleen Singleton ran after the boy and had to pull him out of the freezing water on Jan. 25, 2012.

Chris Brown said Rhodes told the other staff members to stay off the ice, as she could hear it giving way under her. After pulling Andrew near the embankment, Rhodes had him cling to tree branches. They were both transported to Frisbie Memorial Hospital, where they were treated for minor injuries and exposure.

The Hero Awards are sponsored by Citizens Bank and presented by the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Brown said Andrew, who is now in the sixth grade at Rochester Middle School, is "doing awesome now."

"I can't thank her enough," Brown said, adding Rhodes treats all the students at Gonic School like her own children.

Rhodes, who's served as principal for the past five years, has been a teacher for many years. She said her greatest reward is seeing her students — including the one she helped rescue — succeed in the kindergarten through grade five school.

"It's just one of those things I did as part of my job," Rhodes said.

She said she managed to avoid most interviews after the rescue, including calls from "Good Morning America."

Superintendent Michael Hopkins said it was fortunate Rhodes was able to avert a tragedy.

"Principals do great things all the time," Hopkins said.

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