COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. — If a customer needs assistance at the Menards off Highway 61 in Cottage Grove, manager Michael Chernick is ready to lend a hand.

He would need to use both of them last May when Pam Larson walked through the entrance and collapsed.

“One of my assistants notified me that there was a customer that was in distress at the front,” Chernick said. “I wasn’t expecting to see Pam on the floor like that.”

Larson felt light-headed in the days prior and noticed it was happening again as she entered to the store with a friend. 

“I just got really light-headed and I said that to him, and by the time he turned around I was already down,” Larson said.

Her heart had stopped. Chernick dialed 911. Michelle Swenson, the 911 supervisor for Washington County, answered the call.

“I think he said right away ‘I have a woman down, we’re at Menards,'” Swenson said.

She then guided Chernick to start CPR, which went on for several minutes. Weeks later, Chernick downplayed his actions that day, but Swenson disagrees.

“That he jumped in without hesitation and he started chest compressions right away to get her blood circulating … life and death probably for her. He literally saved her life,” she said.

Police and firefighters would soon arrive, using an AED to help jumpstart Larson’s heart. She finally awoke in the ambulance.

“I opened my eyes and they said, ‘Welcome back.’ And I said, ‘Where did I go?’ I had no idea what was going on,” Larson said.

Michael Chernick and Pam Larson


More than two months later on Wednesday night, all three of them gathered together for the first time at Cottage Grove City Hall. Chernick was honored for his efforts at the city council meeting, along with Swenson and the rest of the first responders who helped save Larson’s life.

“They’re all my heroes,” Larson said.

Before Wednesday’s ceremony, Larson stopped by the Menards store. She joked that she still needed to pick up items on her list from the day she nearly died. Chernick was working his normal shift.

“I happened to be walking towards the entrance and she was there. We immediately just walked towards each other and we gave each other a big hug,” he said. “It was great.”

As a dispatcher, Swenson rarely learns the outcomes of the 911 calls she answers. Her focus must be the on the next call that comes through. Finding out Larson survived left her feeling grateful.

“I actually lost my mom to heart disease,” Swenson said. “[Larson] reminds me of my mom a little bit. So, to see her standing, walking, talking, it hits a little bit closer to home. It’s remarkable to be part of that.”