The Desloge Board of Aldermen recognized former fire chief and longtime firefighter Kenny Hawkins after 55 years of service to the city’s volunteer fire department.
A special presentation in honor of Hawkins, 72, was made by Mayor David Kater at the board’s Sept. 10 meeting held at city hall.
“Tonight we’re recognizing Kenny Hawkins with a plaque for his retirement after 55 years of service with the fire department, and they probably had you going out on special assignments, too,” Kater said. “It’s hard to stay away when you’ve been there that long.”
The plaque read, "In gratitude and sincere appreciation to Kenny Hawkins for his service of 55 years on the Desloge Fire Department. In 1963 he began service on the fire department. In 1969 he became the third fire chief for the fire department. In 1973 he oversaw a new fire station on Oak Street while chief and in 2008 became deputy chief. In 2011 he became assistant chief and in 2018 retired from the fire department.”
Kater continued, “My years on the fire department — just the short stint that I was on there — he was there, and I think all these things happened during that time, too ... except for chief, but everything else.
“Kenny showed me quite a bit, so this is actually an honor for me to be able to give this to you. I know a couple of [the aldermen] have served beside you and for you and with you. So, Kenny, thank you so much. We appreciate you for all that you’ve done.”
Hawkins spent his entire life in the city of Desloge and has never moved far from the house where he was born.
"I was raised in a house that's about a block from where I'm living now," he said. "When I got married I bought a house. I lived off Sixth Street — back then it was called Sixth Street, now it's Ravencrest Street. I bought a house on Seventh Street.
“If you had went straight across the alley and up to my grandmother's house, then up four houses, that was it. I played in the neighborhood my whole life. I knew the house before I even looked at it. I bought that in '73 and I've been there since then."
The veteran firefighter recalled when he first became interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter.
"I was a junior in high school," Hawkins said. "There was a fire out in Cantwell where we lost some kids and their mother came back our senior year and took her senior year with us. That impressed me so much. I thought, if she could do that, I could go do a little more for the community."
Hawkins noted that over a period of 75 years there have only been a total of seven men who have served as fire chief of the Desloge Fire Department. Of that number, only three of the chiefs are still living — Hawkins, who presently holds the rank of assistant fire chief; Alderman J.D. Hodge; and current Fire Chief Larry Gremminger.
"I served around two or three years as fire chief," Hawkins said. "I had three kids and I said, 'I just gotta quit doing so much there — I need to do more at home. Then I got down to regular fireman. By 2008 I was back up to deputy chief and then became assistant chief. "My health in the last four years has went down — I've had six bypasses and two strokes.”
Asked why the fire department became such an important part of his life for 55 years, Hawkins said, "My family has given so much to the community and to the United States. My dad was in the service twice. He was out, and World War II broke out and he went back in. I had an uncle on his side that spent over 30 years in the Army. I've got an uncle on my mom's side that's done the same thing and I've got a brother that spent over 30 years in the Marine Corps.
"So, when I didn't pass my physical to be drafted, I just kinda said, 'Well, I'm going to try to do something.'
"I was a police officer in town for a while. I worked it without a radio and without a pistol and used a '67 Chevy pickup truck as my patrol vehicle. I wouldn't do it today, but back then the kids were good. I knew every one of them."
In fact, Hawkins said he knew just about everybody in the city of Desloge because he had worked for a little grocery store for which he delivered groceries.
"I used to just go into people's houses," he said. "I'd have their groceries and I'd set 'em on the table. The meat and the milk went in the refrigerator. I picked the money up and took it back to the store. The house was never locked. No trouble outta anybody, but you know, that's all went by the wayside."