A very important person was present at a Cedar Falls City Council meeting recently.
He wasn’t a billionaire bringing a Fortune 500 company with hundreds of jobs to town.
He wasn’t a real estate developer with plans for a fantastic gleaming new shopping mall or massive new residential subdivisions.
He wasn’t a former star athlete from the University of Northern Iowa returning to alma-mater accolades after success at the professional level.
He wasn’t a brilliant home-grown entrepreneur seeking tax incentives and an angel investor for a major new enterprise in town.
He wasn’t a prominent former elected official, returning to praise, pan or otherwise impart wisdom on current office holders.
It was a little boy. A beautiful, smiling little boy about 3 years old. He was in a fire in February. He survived. So, thankfully, did his mother and his sister.
They were saved from their little trailer on North Union Road by Cedar Falls firefighters.
For that, those firefighters and the team of firefighters and police officers supporting them received some well-deserved honors from the city.
Mayor Jim Brown decided they and all Cedar Falls fire and police personnel should receive their awards before the City Council and the public at an open council meeting aired on the city’s cable channel.
Brown understands the import of what those firefighters did, and what all firefighters and cops do every day. His father was a career police officer. For the mayor, it’s personal.
So when it came time to honor Cedar Falls’ finest, the mayor wanted to make sure their recognition didn’t just get shoved in a desk drawer.
City employees do their jobs every day, Brown said, but when a group such as these employees are recognized all are uplifted.
So was everyone present at the meeting. When Brown noted the little boy those firefighters saved was present and a family member lifted him up for all to see, everyone rose to their feet in applause, leaving a lump in every throat and not a dry eye in the house.
Police officers also were honored recently. Waterloo Officer Tim Everett prevented a mentally disturbed woman from drowning herself and her young son in the Cedar River downtown April 16. Cedar Falls Officer Ryan Bellis rescued a suicidal subject from a hanging attempt Sept. 13.
This is what a community is all about. It’s not just about budgets and taxes and sewers and streets and parks and businesses. Those are the bones of a city. The heart and sinew of a community is its people. All those amenities contribute to what is and should be the central mission of a community.
There are all kinds of mission statements floating around saying we want Cedar Falls, Waterloo and the Cedar Valley to be a good place to “live, work, play and raise a family.” That’s all well and good. But it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.
The heart of the matter is, a community is a place where the people who live in it genuinely work with each other — not without sometimes passionate disagreements — because at their very core, they care about their home and they care about each other.
No one in this community could display more heart than those Cedar Falls firefighters who saved that little boy, his mother and sister from that burning trailer. They represent the best our community has to offer — our whole community — all of Waterloo-Cedar Falls, from the UNI-Dome to Elk Run Heights, from east Waterloo to Orange Township, from North Cedar to Crossroads.
Their deeds set an example and pose a challenge to all of us: What can we do in our daily lives to make this place we call home a better community?
Let’s keep our eyes on that prize. And let’s keep the little boy who survived that fire at the top of our minds. We need to keep all the little boys and girls in our communities safe. From flames. From stray bullets. From poverty, ignorance and lack of opportunity. From despair.
Not all of us can charge into a burning trailer, but we can all do our best to make this “house” we call community a home for him and all our dear children to grow up in and thrive.