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Government & Politics

Congressman Regula Is Remembered as a Proud Republican Yet Nonpartisan Public Servant

Ralph Regula park

Ralph Regula -- a farmer, teacher, lawyer and one of Ohio’s longest-serving congressman – has died at age 92. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more on the man known for his geniality and constituent service.

Regula’s trademark during his 36 years in Congress was helping his constituents navigate the federal bureaucracy. It’s something he remained proud of right through his retirement in 2008.

“It gives me a lot of satisfaction to help someone with a problem. My home telephone’s in the book. I never had an unlisted number because I think it’s important that people have access.”

photo of CVNP area
Regula and late-Congressman John Seiberling helped get the federal designation of and funding for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

But the Stark County Republican also rose to a powerful position on the House Appropriations Committee. And while overall a fiscal conservative, he said he saw reasons for government spending that boosted jobs.

“If you borrow money to build a house, you’re creating a job but you also have to understand you’ve got to pay it back. And if we borrow to build highways and universities and so on, that’s the way the economy works.”

Regula and Democratic Congressman John Seiberling were key in creating the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the mid-1970s, and Regula said last year he was proud of bipartisan efforts. 

Ralph and Mary Regula
Credit MARK URYCKI / WKSU public radio
WKSU public radio
Ralph and Mary Regula retired to the farm in Stark County where they lived for 70 years.

Regula's last active foray into politics was last year, when he endorsed Gov. John Kasich's run for president. Kasich served with Regula in Congress in the 1990s, and says Regula was a patient mentor.

Kasich on Regula

"That was a time in our history when people knew how to get things done. Where they did not create a bitter partisan environment. They always put the country ahead of politics and even party, but they were loyal. They were loyal Republicans, they were conservative. But at times they had to march to their own drummer."

Regula's time in Congress spanned seven presidents, and he said last year he was able to work with them all and with the leadership of both parties in the House. He said powerful Democrat Tip O'Neill became a kind of mentor when he arrived in Washingon in 1973.

Back home, beyond the national park, Regula's efforts helped create the Northeast Ohio Medical University and the National First Ladies Library.

He said his goal was always to help Ohio obtain it's promise.

Regula on Ohio's bridge

“Ohio is the bridge to everywhere and I really believe that. And in my career in the Congress, I have tried to put things in place that will make Ohio even have a bigger bridge.”

Notes from Reagan
One of Regula's favorite presidents was Ronald Reagan.

Regula died in the southwestern Stark County farmhouse where he and his wife, Mary, lived for 70 years. (The fence he built there was designed by one of his favorite presidents, Ronald Reagan.)

The 16th District he represented centered on Stark County. It's since been drastically redrawn and now stretches up nearly to Lake Erie.

The current 16th District Rep. Jim Renacci, says Regula "provided me with invaluable advice and guidance, as well as giving me one of his many elephants."

A memorial will be held next month at Regula's alma mater, the University of Mount Union, home to the Ralph and Mary Regula Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement.

But Regula also drew accolades from Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown who, as a congressman,served with Regula and helped honor him last year.

Sherrod Brown on Regula, NAFTA and bipartisanship

"He was a counselor, he was an advisor to all of us regardless of party. He would work from his seat on appropriations to help communities not just in Stark County but around Ohio."

M.L. Schultze and Kabir Bhatia discuss the legacy for Ralph Regula