The late President Ronald Reagan once said, "We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone."
Throughout his life, Mansfield's Jesse Fernandez has illustrated those unselfish tendencies not only by his work ethic but right down to his concern for his fellow man.
Fernandez grew up in Mansfield, where he's lived all his life. He'd tell you that "back in the day" the city’s commerce revolved around the quaint downtown area on Main Street and extending down Broad Street.
"I remember when Mansfield was just downtown," Fernandez said. "The hospital was where the public safety building is, and there was just one high school, Mansfield High School, on Broad Street. It’s nothing compared to what it is now...everywhere you look!"
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As for Mansfield's neighbor to the north - Arlington - Fernandez said no one liked traveling Highway 157 north. It was to "dimly lit" and "dangerous," Fernandez recalled.
After graduating from MHS, he went to work for the City of Mansfield after being hired by Tommy Redmon, administrator of the water department.
"There was Tommy our boss and four other guys - two that worked in the water department - and two guys that worked in the wastewater department," Fernandez said. "I started in the wastewater department."
Fast forward around 1995, after years of hard work and study, Fernandez became the supervisor over the city's wastewater department. Leap forward a little further and find Fernandez the city's superintendent of the water department, which like a big umbrella encompassed not only water, but waste-water and inspections.
Just last month, at the age of 51, Fernandez retired after almost 32 years working for the city.
"It's amazing to see people who have come to work for me and rise through the ranks of greater positions and responsibilities," Fernandez politely said. "It makes me proud. It was an honor and a blessing to work with them and watch them move up."
Fernandez' love for Mansfield also carried over to acts of volunteerism, most specifically beautification.
"I was working with the city on a beautification project along with the late Lucretia Mills," Fernandez said. "We found ways to help citizens get rid of items that ordinarily would end up in a landfill, particularly metal. We'd get someone to come pick it up and save us the expense on the usage of a dumpster."
Fernandez is still involved in beautification.
"Daddy helped as a volunteer, he loved it," Fernandez added. "In April 2004, he passed away right after Beautification Day. My family and I still enjoy participating in it because we get to visit with people from all parts of the city, with the employees and volunteers. We just have a good time doing it."
As much as he helps with the beautification of his city, Fernandez helps beautify the lives of others as a foster parent.
For the last five years, he and his wife Melanie have fostered 14 children and are on numbers 15 and 16 currently.
"We became involved when Melanie’s friend had a family member that was having a difficult time caring for their child. So we became involved to the extent that we could offer respite care," he said. "We have fostered children from newborns to 18 month-olds. My wife loves babies."
So the Fernandez family became involved with Covenant Kids, a foster child advocacy group.
"We became foster parents and loved it," Fernandez said. "Right now we have a 7 month-old from Johnson County and a 4-month-old from Mineral Wells. It takes a little time with classwork and a little expense, but it's worth it."
He said it's hard sometimes when a child moves on and is adopted because they’ve become attached them.
"You have to prepare your heart," he said. "You have to remember you're a stepping stone for them to a better life."
As for retirement, Fernandez offered some sage advice.
"I’ve always told the guys don't ever take all of the glory for your accomplishments yourself," he said. "Remember, it took everyone to accomplish the goal."
Fernandez said if you can remember that, while taking ownership of your job, you'll appreciate it later.
"After all, you're only as strong as the people under you holding you up. Mr. Chandler, city manager taught us that. It's hard," Fernandez said with emotion in his voice. It's hard to walk away from this family."
City Manager Clayton Chandler said it was difficult to see Fernandez go.
"Jesse Fernandez is truly one public servant who will be greatly missed by his fellow employees and by the citizens of Mansfield,” Chandler said. “He’s a true public servant with more than 30 years of totally unselfish service, a hard worker who will help anyone in need."
Jeff Price, director of water utilities for the city made similar remarks.
“I’ve worked with Jesse half of my life,” Price said. “He very well may be as responsible as anyone for me being in the position I’m in today.”
Price said he began working for Fernandez as a young man in the utility department.
“One of Jesse’s biggest attributes is leading by example and getting people to follow him, even to the ends of the earth,” Price added. “That speaks to his character; as a leader.”
Price said as good a co-worker, employee and friend Fernandez is he’s just as good a man outside of work.
“He’s selfless. His ability to give anyone and everyone the shirt off his back...I don’t think no, or I can’t, or won’t, are terms in his vocabulary. He is a guy that just gets things done.”
Lance Winter: 817-390-7274