Lebanon man drowns while saving grandchildren who were struggling to stay above water

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LEBANON, Mo -- A man from Lebanon drowned while saving two of his grandkids who were struggling to stay above water on the Niangua River. Jake Stephen, 57, died on August 10th.

"He would have said that he wasn't a hero." said Sandy Stephen, Jake Stephen's wife. She said they had been out to the Berry Bluff fishing access dozens of times before. Jake wanted to take his grandchildren out on August 10th to swim.

"Abby and Lane were playing with water guns and they got out a little too far." explained Stephen, talking about two of her grandkids.

The children were struggling to stay above water.

"My oldest grandson was bobbing up and down." Sandy said. Her granddaughter Abby was also out there. "I tried to pick him up to where he could breathe but he kept crawling on my back and I was drowning with him." Abby shared.

Jake didn't hesitate and dove in to help.

"After he got us halfway to safety he just sank." Abby explained.

The kids were helped to shore by four men on canoes while Sandy drove to a spot where she could get a cell phone signal to call for help. The two grandchildren made it back to shore safely and say their grandfather saved their lives.

"I just felt like he was going to bring us to safety and the people on the canoes would take me, papa, and Lane back. But only two came back." said Abby.

Sandy says she was not at all surprised seeing her husband of 36 years diving in to help.

"It wouldn't have mattered it was his kids or somebody else's," Stephen said. "He was always eager to help anybody."

He dove in to save what she calls, his whole life.

"If he wasn't at work he was with the grandkids." said Stephen.

"Me and him were going to go out to the farm and shoot deer and stuff. But we never got to. I keep thinking about that." Abby added.

Jake Stephen was laid to rest last week.