CEDARVILLE – Thirty-six years of dedication and commitment to the Cedarville Fire Department was honored by more than 100 community residents, friends and family as firefighters paid tribute to one of their own.
His body aching with the weight of his illness, Robert Sanzo sat at the head table and offered a soft smile through his pain.
He was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love, and despite his weariness, he wanted to stay for the celebration.
“He always puts the fire department before himself,” said longtime friend Brian Lupinski, who has been with the department for 18 years. “It’s always been his dream and his drive. He’s good for just about anything.”
“We busted our butts and are just thrilled with the turnout,” said Lori Case, president of the Ladies Auxiliary. The appreciation dinner was a combined effort pulled together by her organization and members of the Cedarville Fire Department.
“We had set up tables for 92 and then they had to go and set up more,” she added.
“The outpouring from everyone is overwhelming and shows how much he’s appreciated. He’s been here not just for the fire department, but for the whole community,” she added.
The attendance is a reflection of who Sanzo is and what he means to this small town fire department and the entire community. Ask anyone and the answer is the same. For the last three decades and then some, Sanzo has been the cornerstone and foundation, in building this fire department through his fundraising and coordination efforts.
Some days the cancer wracking his body gets the best of Sanzo, and it makes it hard for him to even carry on a conversation. But even so, friends say he complains very little. “He’s always been quiet about things like that,” Lupinski said.
Diagnosed in 1997 with thyroid cancer, everyone thought he had it beat for the longest time. Within the last year, it resurfaced in other parts of his body. He just recently finished his chemotherapy treatments. “They take a lot out of you,” Sanzo said softly.
His friends worry about him. They love him like a flesh and blood brother and wanted to show Sanzo, and this dinner was the only way how. “He always did everything for us,” Case said. “Now, with his cancer, he’s got to turn over the reigns. We know it’s bothering him to do this, but he has to.”
“There’s nothing here that you can see that he didn’t have his hands on in the making,” Lupinski said. “He’s done it all, came up through the ranks. There isn’t one person here who doesn’t look up to him for his leadership.”
In addition to the efforts by fire department members to pull this dinner together, the community pitched in by donating hot and cold dishes for the event. You name it, it was laid out: lasagna, goulash, chicken riggies, Spanish rice, beans, salads, cold cuts, and desserts.
“There was so much food coming in, I can’t tell you who brought what. They’d bring it in and we’d put it in the oven or the refrigerator if it was hot or cold. There was just so much food,” Case said.
Similarly, friends piled high Sanzo’s accomplishments over the years. Chicken barbecues, turkey dinners, car shows, bingo, and tractor pulls – the list was unending and everyone who was asked gave the same answer, “Bob pulled it all together.”
“He’s a tremendous example for all the young firefighters,” said fire department president Ed Prenderville.
Longtime buddy Earl Alexander couldn’t say enough about Sanzo, but summed it all up in one sentence. “He’s a great guy.”