‘POSITIVITY AND GOODNESS’: Ronick lived life with fierce optimism and love

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Despite facing a host of health challenges in his 18 years, Jacob Ronick always remained upbeat and positive, according to family and friends.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD — Jacob Ronick’s upbeat optimism served him well throughout his life, despite facing adversity since the day he was born.

Earlier this month, the young man known for his loving spirit and trademark grin — who achieved his dream of graduating from Greenfield-Central High School last year — succumbed to cancer at the age of 18.

His final months were some of the best he ever had.

He had gotten a new puppy as well as his first girlfriend, and his high school diploma was hanging on his wall.

He remained active with his church right up to the end, posting devotionals and prayers for others on his Facebook page.

When the cancer he’d been fighting took a turn for the worse, a string of friends, family and teachers visited him in the Greenfield apartment he shared with his mom, where he spent 10 days in hospice care before passing away on Feb. 11.

Jacob was featured in the Greenfield Daily Reporter last June, as a high school senior set to graduate after overcoming numerous obstacles along the way, including a number of life-threatening health challenges and a learning disability.

His father left before Jacob was born, leaving Tracy Ronick to raise her son alone. The two formed a tight bond over the years that would help sustain them when things got tough, as they so often did.

Jacob was born with a hole behind one eye, which doctors tried to correct, but the birth defect drew second glances from strangers throughout his life.

“Some people look at me differently, but I don’t really worry about it,” Jacob had said last year. “I tell them I got bit by a shark.”

His carefree optimism carried him through even the lowest times in his life.

As a young boy, he developed neurofibromatosis, a neurological disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves, behind his bad eye. Doctors went back in to remove the resulting tumor through a string of surgeries, forcing Jacob to wear an eye patch to strengthen his other eye.

Around age 5, he opted to ditch the patch and forgo future surgeries, telling his mom he was okay with the way his eye looked.

A health crisis struck again in 2017 — Jacob’s freshman year in high school — when doctors discovered a cancerous growth in his left leg. Doctors removed the tumor and Jacob underwent radiation, but the cancer returned in January 2021, at the halfway point of his senior year.

He was diagnosed with Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor, or MPNST, a rare form of cancer in the cells that form the sheath that covers and protects peripheral nerves. The resilient teen endured surgery once again to have the tumor removed.

For six weeks, five days a week, his mom would leave her job as a machine operator at a Greenfield auto parts manufacturer to drive her son to radiation treatments at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

At the end of treatment, the family celebrated the good news that the cancer was completely gone in his left leg.

Unfortunately, they’d later learned that it had spread to his other leg and beyond.

Last July, Jacob was walking into a Greenfield gas station when his right femur snapped in two where a new tumor had grown. The injury led to a hip replacement and painful physical therapy.

In January, his health took a turn for the worse, and he spent his final days surrounded by family and friends.

Despite the ongoing challenges that could break the strongest of adults, Tracy said her son showed bravery and grace through it all.

“It was just amazing how such a young man who struggled continuously throughout his life was still able to maintain positivity and a smile through to the very end,” said Tracy’s sister, Tara Karr. “It’s remarkable that somebody so young can be so strong.”

Loved ones say Jacob was always thinking of others, right up to his dying day.

During his final course of cancer treatment, he donated some of his tissue so doctors could research the particular type of rare cancer he had to help those who would face the same diagnosis in the future.

“Physicians at Riley Children’s Hospital have already indicated that has proved beneficial to their research,” Karr said.

Ronick feels blessed to have been able to witness her son experience so much joy in his final months, like getting a new puppy — a toy poodle named Murphy — through the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund.

He also got his first girlfriend, Alaina, a young woman he met through church. The two started dating shortly after they each graduated from high school in 2021.

Watching him walk across the stage to earn his diploma last June was among the highlights of Tracy Ronick’s life, she said, especially since Jacob worked so hard to succeed despite a learning disability.

“He was just tickled to death that he was able to graduate. He was very grateful to all the teachers who have supported him and helped him get there,” said his mom.

One of his favorite teachers, Krysha Voelz, said it was a blessing for her to have Jacob in her life.

“I thank God for the opportunity to have known Jacob Ronick,” said Voelz, who had him in class his first three years of high school.

“I, like many at Greenfield-Central, was touched by Jacob’s sweet demeanor, friendly personality, and steadfast work ethic,” she said. “He radiated positivity and goodness, and is someone who will be missed greatly.”

His pastor, Tommy Hensley, had similar things to say about the young man.

“Out of the thousands of beautiful things I could say about Jacob Ronick, the one that impacted us the most was his faith,” said Hensley.

“His faith was so strong that even though he was fighting an aggressive form of cancer on the inside, his smile lit up every room as he told others about Christ on the outside. His faith and his smile were very contagious.”

His family said Jacob continued doing faith devotionals every day right up to the end, until he became uncommunicative on the final day.

“He remained positive right up to the end,” said his aunt, who is helping her sister plan a celebration of life for the young man who meant so much to so many.

“It was very important for Jacob to not have a somber funeral. He wanted things to be positive and upbeat,” said his aunt.

The service will take place March 11, on what would have been Jacob’s 19th birthday.

A visitation will take place at his church from 3 to 5:30 p.m., followed by a celebration of life service.

In lieu of flowers, supporters are encouraged to donate to Bethel Baptist Church or Riley Children’s Hospital, which were both near and dear to Jacob’s heart.

Guests at the celebration of life are also encouraged to wear bright colors, something vibrant and uplifting.

Jacob wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

More information

Jacob Ronick lived a life of positivity before losing his battle with cancer Feb. 11 at the age of 18.

A celebration of life is planned for March 11, on what would have been his 19th birthday.

A visitation will take place at Bethel Baptist Church in Greenfield from 3 to 5:30 p.m., followed by a celebration of life service. Guests are encouraged to wear bright colors.

In lieu of flowers, supporters are encouraged to donate to Bethel Baptist Church or Riley Children’s Hospital.