By Jim Hunt
Throughout my life, I’ve treasured the many friends I’ve made over the years. I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands of people from throughout the world and many have remained friends for life. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and that has given me an opportunity to explore many aspects of life and gain an appreciation for different cultures, races, lifestyles and other things that make my life so much more than I could have imagined as a little kid, growing up in West Virginia. I’ve enjoyed meeting people who have had different life experiences than me and learning about what makes their life worthwhile. One such individual is a fellow named Rap Hankins, who I met at a National League of Cities conference many years ago.
Rap was a city councilman for the City of Trotwood, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton, and was never at a loss for words. He had a distinctive voice and rarely left a meeting without expressing his opinion on the issue at hand. Always polite, he would stroke his beard and lean on the hand crutches that he used, as he zeroed in on policies that he felt were unfair or unequitable to those he represented. I can remember many times when he would hone in on some aspect of municipal policy and I could just not see the relevance to the discussion, only to have an “ah ha” moment, when I would be thinking of it many hours later. When I would catch up with him later on, the wry smile that would cross his face was the beginning of a friendship that I treasure to this day.
The thought of an African American fellow from the outskirts of Dayton and a white guy from the hills of West Virginia becoming best buddies might seem strange to some, but I started to look forward to our encounters at the National League of Cities meetings and phone calls. We were able to engage on difficult subjects and be able to laugh, as we found common ground. I can remember one instance when Rap was on the National League of Cities Board of Directors, and I was serving as an officer at the time. We had met in D.C. for a finance committee meeting and there was a need for some difficult decisions regarding the finances for the organization. Rap was holding strong for a position that was not a popular one with the staff of NLC. The meeting ended without a resolution, and we headed home. I had taken the Megabus to D.C. and boarded the bus in Union Station for the five-hour ride home. I wanted to give a quick call to Rap to see what he thought of the meeting. We started talking and as the bus entered West Virginia, some three hours later, we had resolved most of the issues with the National League of Cities and most of the critical issues in the country.
Both Rap and I are no longer in local government, but we have both stayed active with our communities and other ventures. Rap is currently leading the EV (Electric Vehicle) movement in Ohio and working on behalf of underserved communities so that they do not get left behind on this important technology. I had Rap as a guest on my Amazing Cities Podcast and was amazed at his knowledge of EVs and how they can keep cities from being bypassed on the technology superhighway. We still talk a good bit and I never fail to get a call on my birthday, as we catch up on our grandchildren.
Rap is soon to be turning 70 years old and I know of few other people that love their city as much as he loves Trotwood. His wonderful wife Jan, his children and grandchildren will celebrate and give this “King of the City” his due. Public service is sometimes hard work and people say it is a thankless profession, but with people like Rap Hankins and many others in my life, my service has been repaid a thousand times. As we end our phone calls, Rap will say, “Love you buddy” and I say “Love you too, buddy!”