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Fired up to help people

Published 05/25/2007 - 2:53 p.m.



Jenae Tussy-Garber has always known her parents to do great things for humanity in their lives, but this one has reached five-alarm status.

Her dad, known as Hank to everyone, is taking a convoy of fire trucks south to Mexico in October, because it seemed only right that if the small town of Mulege (pronounced mula-hey) didn’t have a fire station, why not bring one to them?

That the need is far away or her parents are in their golden years is irrelevant. “I believe the heart and spirit doesn’t see nationality or continents. It just knows there is a need and the desire to help mankind,” said Tussy-Garber. “It all starts somewhere – in the heart.”

“My father is a doer and he doesn’t let his age slow him down,” she added.

Born in Okalahoma 81 years ago, Henry “Hank” Tussy, and his wife Judy, 77, raised three kids – Robert, Jenea and Ron – in Rio Vista while Hank volunteered his time as a fireman and paramedic. Judy retired from real estate while Hank retired as business owner of several businesses, including a Shell gas station in town.

Through the Rotary Club, the couple discovered the small town of Mulege in Mexico 23 years ago. It is a place where government-funded education past the sixth grade is tenuous. Moreover, boys are expected to become vaqueros (farm hands) or scallop divers, while the only career girls can look forward to is marriage and children.

Judy taught English to the kids, and when she found out three of her students could not afford higher education, the couple got to thinking. Together they created a nonprofit organization called Mulege Student Scholarship Program, Inc. “We started with three students and now have 192 in two cities in Mexico,” said Judy. “We’ve graduated 86 high school students and 43 college students, with some who have become doctors, lawyers, attorneys and school teachers.”

Tussy-Garber’s parents will be honored on Nov. 3 in Mulege for their scholarship program for underprivileged children. “When we set up this program, we just wanted to get them through high school,” said Hank. “We never thought of college.”

Finding needs and filling them is what the Tussys are about, and since Mulege had no fire station, Hank made it their next mission. Upon putting the word out for donated fire trucks and equipment, River Delta Fire District answered the call and donated three trucks, including a five-passenger, four-wheel-drive brush unit that holds up to 500 gallons of water.

Tussy will convoy a total of five trucks to Tijuana with volunteer drivers. Mulege residents will take over from there, but what they need now is to compensate their volunteers. “Our need is money for gas, one night’s lodging and airline tickets for eight to 10 people to fly back from San Diego to San Jose to home,” said Tussy-Garber.

“If anyone has ever said, ‘I wish I could do something to help mankind,’ here is a great chance! Just one dollar would make a difference in someone else’s life. No, it isn’t Iraq or Somalia, but it is a start somewhere.”

She reflects back 10 years when her dad met a 3-year-old in Mulege. “This little girl was walking around begging for money and my parents were so intrigued that she was so little and begging for money,” recalled Tussy-Garber. “My dad followed her home and saw she was sleeping inside a refrigerator box. Her mother had elephantiasis and had this beautiful little girl from the result of a rape.”

Tussy-Garber said her dad built them a one-bedroom home with a kitchen, running water and a bathroom and made sure they’d have money for the rest of their lives. “I’m just so lucky to have a mother and father who are devoted to humanity,” she said. “I know there’s other families out there like this; I’m just able to brag about mine!”

Fire Chief Rick Carter of River Delta Fire Dept. at Station 87 has known Hank since he was a teenager. “I wish more people could do what Hank does,” said Carter, “because it does help.”

Hank, who derives great satisfaction from helping others, said he’ll keep moving forward, regardless of age, because he’s already survived so much. “I’ve survived D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, raising three teenagers, colon cancer four years ago, and 60 years of marriage to the same woman!” he said.

For learn how to help, visit www.bajaquest.com/msspi/ or call Hank Tussy at (707) 374-5295.

Published Saturday, May 26, 2007 7:07 AM by Kanoa Biondolillo


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