s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe

He was 11 years old when he died last week, but in his short time, Ronnie Dekeyser touched those he met with a ready smile and laugh that defied a fight with brain cancer that lasted more than six years.

Teachers, friends, firefighters and police officers joined with his family Sunday to commemorate the boy, who was made an honorary officer in the city Police Department four months ago, fulfilling a wish on his bucket list.

"He was a great addition to our department," said Police Lt. Jason Ferguson, who said officers got the lad a full uniform so he could ride along and also lead the high school homecoming parade.

On Sunday, there was a posthumous parade of sorts for Ronnie, now counted among Lakeport's finest. The escort was led by flag-waving motorcycle riders and more than a dozen flashing fire and police vehicles that made their way through the heart of the lakeside town of 5,125 people to the fairgrounds.

"The community really came together for this kid," said Justin Braider, a cook at Old World Tavern who came out to watch the procession pass by on Main Street.

Over the past year, the community held several fundraisers to benefit the Dekeyser family, enabling the parents to take time from their jobs to care for the youth as his disease tightened its grip.

Until four or five months ago, "he lived a pretty normal life," said his father, Ron Dekeyser, a custom painter who lives in nearby Kelseyville. "His last month, he was pretty well paralyzed. He could move his head, but he lost his functions, eating and swallowing."

His mother, Jennifer Hittson, said he went through two years of chemotherapy and radiation, "nonstop."

Ronnie had inoperable brain stem cancer that was diagnosed before his fifth birthday. Initially his family was told he probably had four to six months to live as a result of the disease, known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.

On Sunday, those who loved and knew him came together to celebrate his seemingly indomitable spirit and courage in the face of his diagnosis, describing him as someone who lived not only for today, but tomorrow.

"He went on with a boldness, veracity and courage that a lot of us have never seen," Mike Brown, pastor of the New Life Foursquare Church in Lakeport, told the crowd of about 200 people gathered in the bright sunshine at the fairgrounds' speedway grandstand.

"He brought Lake County alive as far as getting (people) together to show how you take care of your own," said Ronnie's maternal grandmother, Linda Flaherty of Clearlake. "I'm just blown away by all the caring and compassion Lake County has shown."

She said he "was one of those boys who could touch your heart the moment you met him."

The racetrack was a fitting venue for Sunday's farewell, given that the child's father raced stock cars there for years. And Ronnie, who loved dirt bikes, got to ride a three-wheeler around the track on his sixth birthday.

When he was 5 years old, the Make-a-Wish Foundation flew the young NASCAR fan to Illinois for a weeklong trip and the opportunity to meet driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

More recently, he got to indulge his desire to experience police work, and even hang out with officers over donuts. He had watched the reality show 'Cops' religiously and his grandfather was a Lakeport police officer.

Ronnie "loved his handcuffs," said Ferguson, the police lieutenant. "He put his brother in handcuffs -#8212; arrested his brother. We neglected to give him a key," he said with a laugh.

The boy's siblings, Daniel, 9, and Blaine 5, also were present Sunday to watch as a flag that flew over the Police Department was presented to the family.

On a table was a small chest with Ronnie's ashes, along with poignant reminders of his life -#8212; his cowboy boots and hat, motorcycle helmet, sneakers and one of his finger paintings.

Pastor Brown noted that Ronnie loved color, art, tie-dye, and orange shoelaces. The latter was because the Denver Broncos were his favorite team.

"I'm a Seattle Seahawks fan. Now that he's in heaven, we're in deep, deep trouble," the pastor said in a reference to the upcoming Super Bowl.

There were other lighthearted moments.

Flaherty told the crowd how her grandson loved to play games. "He's up there in heaven, playing Skip-Bo and Uno, riding his dirt bike and probably farting on all the other angels," she said.

Sunday fulfilled one last wish for Ronnie. "Before he got 'sick, sick' and got ready to pass, he always wanted one last party -#8212; like one last sendoff," said his father.

In a final farewell, the crowd came down from the grandstands to light 100 Chinese sky lanterns and release helium balloons, sending them floating in the bright blue sky.