CEDAR HILL — Hailing from Lancaster and later residing in Red Oak, Mr. Ronnie Cessna’s “dream job” was the one he landed at an early age — and it was the only career he ever followed.
Cessna was a proud member of the Dallas Fire Department for 36 and a half years before retiring in 2008. But his service to the community did not stop there.
After graduating from Lancaster High School in 1965, he studied at the University of Texas at Arlington for three years before becoming a firefighter in 1972.
In the years since Cessna has committed his life to being a servant. He helped countless people over his tenure as a firefighter. Now, after his retirement in 2008, he continues to serve his fellow man when an opportunity presents itself.
As this gentleman approaches his 70th birthday in a couple of weeks, he keeps busy aiding others, which includes cooking and serving meals for his local church family at Hillcrest Baptist in Cedar Hill every Wednesday night at their mid-week services.
For the past nine years, Cessna has also enjoyed being a part of the Texas Baptist Men, an organization that is known for providing prompt assistance and emergency support during times of disaster. The organization and its mission are the reason he loaded up Aug. 26 and headed on to Houston after Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coastline.
He and five other brave men were ready to heed the call in just a few hours notice.
After arriving at one of the areas ravaged by Harvey, they first were directed to one of the first and hardest hit areas in Rockport. Before they arrived, however, they received word there was no electricity, so they were sent on to Robstown and stayed the night there. The rain was so bad, and because they were serving food under tents, they all got soaked, soon realizing that they needed to be in a dry building to effectively be of help.
The next day they headed on to be Rosenberg, a city of roughly 36,000 within The Woodlands and Sugar Land metropolitan area outside of Houston in Fort Bend County.
This particular area was hard-hit, too, and needed help in a big way.
Cessna’s particular part of the Texas Baptist Men is considered the “feeding unit,” with a primary goal to serve and feed the first and second task forces, First Responders, and National Guardsmen in Rosenberg during their five-day stay.
According to Cessna, “All of these people were so grateful for all the meals.”
The interesting part of Cessna’s willingness to be a part on the front lines following the devastating hurricane is that he is currently in desperate need of a kidney transplant himself. His doctor recently confirmed that his kidney function is now down to only 12 percent.
A few weeks prior and though he was all but certain to be a match, Cessna received word that his son had been ruled out as a potential donor, leaving he and his wife Margaret to wait patiently for a kidney donor to come forward.
There was no moping though.
His wife reported on social media during the first few days after landing in Rosenberg, "The guys are very tired from all the hard, physical work. They have had very little sleep. Their schedule calls for them to be up around 4:30 a.m. and they don’t usually finish their clean-up until 10 or 11 o’clock in the evenings. These six guys fed 300 to 400 people, three hearty meals a day.”
As luck would have it, the city of Rosenberg holds the Fort Bend County Fair in October every year. That was a plus, as there were a lot of open areas that were used as makeshift headquarters for the Texas Baptist Men and other organizations. In fact, Cessna’s group slept in an exhibit building within the fair grounds — they brought cots or sleeping bags, or blow-up mattresses to sleep on.
The men stayed in the same room and were very grateful that they had a decent, dry place to stay at night. During the day, it was a sheltered area which was ideal for cooking and serving. Also, helicopters favored the large open area of the fair grounds to land and drop-off rescued men, women, and children.
After six long days of serving, Cessna’s group returned home to the Dallas area late Friday afternoon, Sept. 1. When asked what he did when he finally arrived home, he replied, “I took a long, hot shower and went to bed early that night.” Mrs. Cessna confirmed that her husband was completely exhausted and just wanted a few days to catch-up on some sleep.
When asked if he would do this again, Cessna quickly responded, and without hesitation, “Yes, I would.” In fact, in previous years he was part of the relief efforts in Hurricanes Sandy and Ike, as well.
The Cessnas lived in Red Oak for 11 years, until recently moving to a retirement community in Cedar Hill.
*Editor's note: Since the original writing of this story, Mr. Cessna has found a kidney donor match — his wife’s niece, who is happy and thrilled to be able to help him out. This servant of a man is set for transplant surgery on Dec. 20, which will make for a well-deserved and early Christmas present.