November 20th, 2013
11:39 AM ET

Rivers' Garbageman Named CNN Hero of the Year

Chad Pregracke, an Illinois man who has dedicated his lifeto cleaning the Mississippi River and other U.S. waterways, was named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year on Tuesday night.

Pregracke organizes community cleanups across the country through his nonprofit, Living Lands & Waters. About 70,000 volunteers have pitched in, helping Pregracke collect more than 7 million pounds of trash in the past 15 years.

"The garbage got into the water one piece at a time," Pregracke said earlier this year. "And that's the only way it's going to come out."

Pregracke was recognized Tuesday night along with the rest of this year's top 10 CNN Heroes - everyday people doing extraordinary things to help change the world. He was chosen as Hero of the Year through a five-week public vote on

"I'll just keep on cleaning up America's rivers and loving every minute of it," said Pregracke as he accepted the award Tuesday night.

For being named CNN Hero of the Year, Pregracke receives $250,000 to continue his work. That is in addition to the $50,000 that each Hero receives for making the top 10.

On Tuesday night, Pregracke pledged to spread some of his Hero of the Year money to the rest of the top 10 Heroes: "I've met so many great people today, the other Heroes, and I'm really moved by all their stories and all the things they do around the world. ... I'm going to give 10 grand to each of them, because they're awesome."

Pregracke, 38, grew up in East Moline, Illinois, where the Mississippi River was in his backyard. As a teenager, he worked as a commercial shell diver and began to notice the heaps of debris in the fabled waterway, which supplies drinking water to 18 million people in more than 50 U.S. cities.

"I saw thousands of barrels, thousands of tires, cars, trucks and tops of school buses. ... I got sick of seeing it and just wanted to do something about it," said Pregracke, whom some have called "the rivers' garbageman."

For nine months out of the year, Pregracke lives on a barge with members of his 12-person crew. They go around the country with a fleet of boats, and they try to make cleanup fun for the volunteers who show up in each city.

"CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" airs Sunday, December 1, at 8 p.m. ET.

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Candy Alderete

    You so deserve that recognition, and the money, you have been on my HERO list since I met you 10 years ago in Bettendorf. More power to you. Cathy's mom

    November 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  2. Kelly

    I went to High School with Chad, and what I remember about him is he always was for cleaning up the river...and a lot of our classmates banded together to vote every day, posted the link to vote on our walls, on pages we visit, tweeted about it.Chad, all of us here in the Quad Cities are proud to have you as one of our own!

    November 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  3. Sheronne Mulry

    Congrats Chad from Wabasha GRR.MRPC RiverDog!! Well deserved. Thanks for cleaning up many waters. Gratitudes.

    November 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Reply

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