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Government & Politics

Remembering Ralph Regula, the 'Constituent Congressman'

Ralph and Mary Regula

One of the longest-serving Ohioans in Congress is being remembered as a proud Republican, yet nonpartisan public servant. Ralph Regula, who represented Northeast Ohio for 36 years, died Wednesday in his home. He was 92.

Michael Hanke
Credit Tim Rudell / WKSU
Mike Hanke, former Editor and GM of the Canton Repository

'A good man'
People remembering Ralph Regula quickly get to two points.

“He was an exceptional person;” and “he got things done.” 

Mike Hanke, retired editor and general manager of the Canton Repository, knew Regula from the days when -- as a new reporter -- he covered the congressman’s run for the first of what would be 18-terms in the U.S. House.

“A former publisher of mine ... said it most concisely: He was a good man.”

Janet Creighton, a Stark County commissioner and former mayor of Canton, also went way back with Republican-colleague Regula.

“He was a very kind and gentle individual, but I would say that I think he is probably going to be remembered for his constituency service. It didn’t matter where you came from or who you were or what your politics were. He wanted to serve his constituents.”

In the phone book
That was a message he imparted to staff. But it also is a reason he ensured his home phone number was always listed. He spoke of the importance of that repeatedly and as recently as last year.

“People could call me anytime of the night or day and say, 'Will you help me with grandma’s Social Security or will you help me with grandpa’s veterans’ benefits?' And we took care of them and you have to take care of people and do things which are in the best interest of people and the country.”

Hanke says Regula – who had been a farmer, teacher and state lawmaker -- arrived in Washington in 1973 with that attitude and maintained it through his retirement in 2008.

“His picture should be beside 'constituent congressman.' Anyone who needed anything local that the congressman could help the person get, he got.”

A founding father
But Regula’s definition of constituent service wasn’t all in the small stuff.

You have to take care of people and do things which are in the best interest of people and the country.'
Regula Seiberling
The founding fathers of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park back in the 1970s.

He and late Congressman John Seiberling are credited as the founding fathers of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Democrat Seiberling worked the House leadership while Regula nudged Republican President Gerald Ford.

“I was a moderate Republican and I liked to work well with both sides. That’s how you get things done, you work with people," he recalled.

First Ladies Library, Canton, OH
One of now two buildings in downtown Canton that now make up the National First Ladies Library

Regula also helped establish the Northeast Ohio Medical University and together with his wife of 70 years, Mary, the National First Ladies' Library in an ornate historic building on Market Avenue in Canton.  Pat Krider is executive director.

“The way that he made things happen is that he did care and he did listen to people’s needs and he was always, always, always very concerned about the district. He stayed in Congress as long as he did because he felt that there was still  more that he could do to help people here.”

Last year, Regula said he still believed in getting things done for the people, and he was disappointed Washington seems to have moved away from that.

“I’m concerned today that there’s too much acrimony."

Respect in Washington
In his years in Washington, Regula founded the steel caucus, voted against NAFTA and rose to the powerful Appropriations Committee. And he is still regarded with affection by the then-brash young congressman who headed the Budget Committee and crossed swords with other appropriators: Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“Ralph was in many respects like a father in Congress. He was stable, smart, always had advice and frankly he was always patient with me.”

Ralph Regula
Credit M.L. Schultze / WKSU public radio
WKSU public radio
Regula said Ohio's interests were his primary drivers in his 36 years in Congress.

He was also highly respected at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

'It didn't matter where you came from or who you were or what your politics were. He wanted to serve his constituents.'

Janet Creighton was for a time director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Bush White House.

“They knew him by name. I’ve got to tell you, not every congressman who came to White House, did everybody know their name.  And I also remember, he was getting up in years, so they always arranged for him to drive his little red truck through the gates.”

One more thing everybody remembers about Ralph Regula. He was devoted to Ohio, and home.

That played big in his plans as he prepred for retirement in 2008.

“My fun trip’s to go back to the farm. I’ve done 35 trips over the years. I don’t have any craving to go anywhere frankly.”

And after his 36 years in Washington, ‘back to the farm’ is just what he did.