BY LEANN DILBECK –
Rene Roberts is a life-long Mena resident that has seen her share of tragedy but sees only the good that God redeems from every situation. She is a survivor, an investor, and an eternally optimistic, self-less woman who serves her church, her family and friends, as well her community with a contagious spirit. Renee is not defined by the painful and untimely losses of loved ones or a life-altering diagnosis but rather by her intrinsic devotion to serve and to be a positive influence in the next generation… an influence that will in no doubt continue to be felt for generations.
Rene was born one of five children to the late Dr. Max & Anna Cress. “I was always in my Daddy’s hip pocket,” as she shared stories of accompanying her dad on some of his veterinarian calls, stories that include taking worm pills that looked like candy but left her foaming at the mouth. She graduated Mena High School in 1977 and will quickly tell you that she’s never lived anywhere else. It’s a fact that she’s proud of and it is a part of what defines her as she shared story after story of treasured friendships that have all been there for each other, through the good, the bad and the ugly.
Rene married her husband (Gene) of 39 years right after graduation. She beamed as she reminisced, “He drove a ’74 red GTO, worked at Watkin’s and had the prettiest smile I ever saw.” She confirmed it was ‘love at first site’ on both sides. The couple have two biological children, Josh (38) and Andrea (34) but still lay claim to two exchange students they’ve hosted, Adelina from Cosovo, and Cloudia from Brazil, as well as Zach, a good friend of Josh’s that they adoringly refer to as their “adopted” son. They enjoy three biological grandchildren and one “adopted” grandchild.
From 1981-1986, Renee began keeping books for Fred Roberts (no relation). He passed and Renee saw the opportunity to put her own shingle out. “I remember taking my daddy with me and begging Dale Rodgers for a $6,000 loan,” she joked.
Rene is an active member of the First United Methodist Church where, through the years, she has served on the finance committee and taught Bible school. Her church and church family are very near and dear to her heart.
She has been serving with the Mena Lioness organization since 2002 and has been on the board of directors where she has served as secretary, president and is currently the treasurer as well as a district cabinet member. She is very proud of the work the organization does, “We raise a lot of money and change a lot of lives,” but you can tell that Renee is just as proud of the friendships she shares with fellow Lioness members. “We work hard but we know how to have a good time.”
If you want to see Rene’s burning passion come alive, ask her about volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), which she has done since 2006. “Children are on loan from God. You have to take care of them… love them… nurture them,” as she spoke passionately about advocating for children who have been pulled from their homes by DHS. “We are that child’s voice in court, speaking for their best interest. We are their one steady person, their best friend, their everything. We keep that child from falling through the cracks. We don’t take them into our homes… but we take them into our hearts.” CASA serves Polk, Montgomery and Sevier Counties and because there are not adequate foster homes for the number of children in the system so many children are forced to be moved to group homes as far away as Jonesboro. “You get so attached to these kids and you will spend hours doing all you can for them. Let’s face it, you don’t get pulled from your home and not be unscarred or unmarred. It’s tough on them and they didn’t ask for any of it.” Renee, and other advocates, travel thousands of miles and spend countless hours advocating and investing in these children and with no compensation or recognition. “I just want to know that they are taken care of. When you’re helping a child, you’re doing God’s work.”
To know Rene is to know of her unwavering love of children, (and, of course, her unwavering love of OSU) and her love for her community. “Mena is unique and yes, everybody knows your business… but that just makes us one big family! We have lifetime friends here and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”