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Viewing Party honors “Hero of the Year” Chad Pregracke

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A Quad City man is known as a hero around the world. Chad Pregracke, of the organization Living Lands and Waters, is used to being called the country's river garbage man.

Pregracke has spent the last 15 years of his life working to clean up America's waterways. And in those years, Pregracke and more than 70,000 volunteers have pulled more than seven million pounds of garbage out of our nation's waterways.

But now, he's not only the river garbage man, but he’s also CNN's “Hero of the Year.”

"I just accept it on behalf of all the people who made it happen,” Pregracke said. “I certainly don't take the credit, but it's nice to see all the people voting for clean water."

Sunday night, Pregracke shared the “Hero of the Year” honor with those that helped him earn it.

He was given the honor two weeks ago in New York City, and Sunday night his supporters were able to see the awards ceremony for themselves.

A viewing party was held for the airing of “CNN Heroes: An All Star Tribute" at the Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf.

The award was voted by the people and many of Pregracke's votes came from the Quad Cities.

"Obviously there are a lot of votes from a lot of people and I know because CNN told me a lot of the votes were from right here in the Quad Cities and 10's of thousands of votes," Pregracke said.

The excitement of the honor extends to the entire Living Lands and Waters staff. The award comes with a $250,000 grant that will help them continue to move their programs forward.

"We’re excited to further our mission and we're starting a tree nursery in davenport and that money will help us get that started and going and assist our million trees program," Amber Pribyl of Living Lands and Waters said.

Even Quad Cities residents were excited to share the honor.

"It's awesome to see someone local doing good things, getting recognized for it,” Silvis resident Jamie Sevier said. “It's a good role model for my kids. I'm also a teacher so it's a good thing to share with my class."

Pregracke made plenty of jokes during the night, but what he does is serious business. Cleaning up the water is a tough job and one he says he can't do himself.

"It's a huge honor and I really appreciate it and I only accept [the award] on behalf of the 70,000 volunteers and crew members and all the people that make it happen," Pregracke said.

On top of the $250,000 grant, Pregracke also received $50,000 just for being nominated.

He says he's giving each of the other nominees $10,000 to continue their own programs.

And on top of all of this, Illinois governor Pat Quinn is honoring Pregracke. Quinn named Sunday Dec. 1 "Chad Pregracke Day" in Illinois.