Every so often, County Progress asks our distinguished Judges and Commissioners to allow us a glimpse into their lives giving us a fresh appreciation for the myriad of roles and responsibilities they shoulder every day. This month, we are privileged to feature Panola County Commissioner Ronnie LaGrone, who will retire in December after 36 years with Panola County. Thank you, Commissioner LaGrone, for sharing your story.
In 1984, I went to work as a jailer for Panola County. I later advanced to patrol sergeant in charge of the K-9 unit. During my 12 years there, my dogs and I were named the Top Drug Dog Team in Texas by the Texas Narcotic Officers Association.
It was during my career at the sheriff’s office that my interest began in county government. I was the sheriff’s office contact to the Commissioners Court, where I attended every meeting. After years of attending these meetings, I learned that my Commissioner was retiring. I considered running for sheriff when our current sheriff retired. However, after a long patio swing talk with my wife, my rock, we decided to go for it.
The campaign trail was interesting. I never realized the political “tiger” my dad would become! He loved the political race – meeting people, shaking hands, and designing larger signs to use. We won the primary, beating four opponents! I did not realize at this time that this would be the first of six terms.
My senior Commissioners decided I was a good candidate for many projects. I was deemed in charge of the Panola County Airport, the Panola County Expo building, the designing and building of a new library, and the 911 rural addressing project. I was also the East Texas Council of Governments representative.
When I first took office, I quickly learned that there was much more to this job than roads and bridges. I was helped by the Good Lord, a great foreman, and my voters. Our road and bridge department went from a unit system to a precinct system. The census forced a change in the precinct lines. I became involved in remapping because of my overseeing of 911 rural addressing.
I have been honored to serve as the president of the Panola County Cattlemen’s Association, president of the Carthage Noon Lions Club, president of the Panola County Shrine Club, and Master of Carthage Masonic Lodge 521. I have been national treasurer of the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association for the last 33 years.
In my Shrine work, I have been president of the Texas Shrine Horse Patrol and first vice president of the International Shrine Horse Patrol. The horse patrol members ride in rodeos and parades to remind people of the needs of the children in our Shrine Hospitals. Our horse patrol unit has competed in drill competitions all over the United States and twice in Canada. My time is now spent serving as the chairman of the Board of Governors for the Shriners Hospital for Children-Shreveport. This hospital is the first Shrine hospital and will celebrate its 100-year birthday in 2022. I try to work in my hunting and my blood-tracking dogs. I also still certify police dogs in narcotics work. For my pleasure riding, I ride my mule, Sara.
In my 36 years of employment with Panola County, I have seen nearly all dilemmas a county can encounter. Through all of this, I have always run on the policy of an open door and returning all calls.
I am definitely looking forward to more riding time, hunting, tracking blood trails of wounded animals with my dog, and traveling in our fifth wheel.
This job has been an experience. I want to express my thanks to the voters of Panola County, Precinct 1, for my 24 years in office, to Sheriff Jack Ellett for 12 years with my dogs, to Chief Deputy Kevin Jones for his support, and last but not least, County Judge Lee Ann Jones, as she has been part of all the years in many different capacities.
Thanks to the Lord above for His guidance and to my rock and the love of my life, my wife, Gayla. She started this journey with a skunk-scented uniform and a dog, and for 33 years, she has always been there.