Regula, who represented residents of Stark County in the U.S. House for 36 years, died Wednesday. He was 92.
When Ralph Regula was a congressman, he would stand at a booth at the Stark County Fair during Labor Day weekend so he could talk to the people he represented.
"He was this wonderful, compassionate human being who, as he moved up the ladder, never forgot where he came from," said Daryl Revoldt, who worked for Regula from 1985 to 2001.
Regula, who served Stark County for 36 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, died Wednesday night in his home, surrounded by his family. He was 92.
A moderate Republican and former teacher and attorney, Regula championed education and the preservation of green space while in Congress. His legacy includes a reputation for honesty and a willingness to reach across party lines to get work done.
Regula used to lament that politics had become too partisan and that elected officials had forgotten they had a duty to serve their constituents.
"You must keep your word in politics," he said. "Do your job. Take care of the people and the rest will happen."
Regula was born Dec. 3, 1924, in Beach City to Oscar and Orpha Regula. He loved farming — as a child, he milked cows, hauled corn and participated in 4-H. During his tenure in Congress, his home was a 170-acre farm in Bethlehem Township, and he made the trip back to Stark County from Washington, D.C., most weekends.
When people asked Regula whether he was going to retire to Florida, he told them, "No, my golf cart's a John Deere," son Richard Regula said.
Regula served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946 before earning his bachelor's degree in economics from Mount Union College in 1948. There he met his beloved wife, Mary.
"They've held hands for 66 years," Richard Regula said. "I never saw them apart."
Together they raised three children, Martha, David and Richard, and welcomed four grandchildren.
The family has asked for privacy while mourning the loss and included this statement in his obituary: "His devotion as a public servant was his greatest legacy and the people whose lives he touched in so many ways will forever keep that legacy alive."
A public celebration of his life at the University of Mount Union is being planned.
Regula attended night school at the William McKinley School of Law in Canton and earned a law degree in 1952. Two decades later, after serving in the Ohio Legislature, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Before redistricting, Regula was the only congressman for Stark County. He didn't like that term, however, he told a Repository reporter during an interview for a 2014 profile. He preferred to call himself the "representative to Congress."
Regula's list of accomplishments as a public servant is extensive and includes helping establish the 33,000-acre Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area; forming the Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor, which stretches from Cleveland to New Philadelphia; and working with Democratic U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi to transform the former Presidio military base in San Francisco into a national park.
In 1975, he became a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which provides funding, and in 1995 he was named chairman of an appropriations subcommittee. His biography filed with the Ohio Congressional Archives estimates he used his committee work to put at least $450 million toward parks, hospitals, research, highways and education.
Regula also assisted his wife, Mary, in creating a home in Canton for the National First Ladies' Library after she founded the organization in 1995 and began raising private funds to support it. He worked to establish the site as a unit of the National Park Service, which gave it both "prominence and permanence," Executive Director Patricia Krider said.
"That's what he wanted," she said. "That's what they both wanted."
Regula served 18 terms in Congress and worked with seven presidents before deciding not to seek re-election in 2008.
National and state politicians on Thursday remembered Regula as a friend and mentor. He will be honored formally by his colleagues Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, is organizing a time for members of Congress to speak about Regula and his legacy.
Constituents posted memories on social media about Regula stepping in to help solve problems for their families — from making sure Social Security checks got mailed to assisting veterans with their benefits.
Richard Regula said that for his dad the job was about taking care of people. "That was his goal in life and why he went to D.C.," he said.
Passion for education
Before Regula was elected to public office, he was a teacher and a principal and served on the State Board of Education.
He then was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives and later the Ohio Senate. During his years as a member of the Ohio Legislature, he was instrumental in creating what today are known as the Northeast Ohio Medical University and Stark State College. In 2012, when Stark State celebrated the opening of a new building, President Para Jones introduced Regula as the "widely regarded" founder of the college.
In one of his last public appearances, Regula celebrated his 92nd birthday at a fundraising event at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When asked about his accomplishments, Regula cited Stark State: "I took pride in the school that we have (that) I helped start because it's really going gangbusters."
The party raised money for scholarships and programming at the Ralph and Mary Regula Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement at the University of Mount Union, which has a mission of preparing students for careers in public service and promoting community engagement.
Director Abby Honaker Schroeder said Regula thought it was important that students consider government jobs and said he would remind students that all politicians had staffs behind them. That vision for the center grew to include community service, and the center now partners with more than 70 nonprofit and government organizations.
A Regula Scholars program at the former congressman's alma mater rewards top students with a stipend for experiential learning, whether that's an internship or a spring break service trip, and a tuition scholarship. The students visit Washington, D.C., complete 150 hours of community service and meet for training. The curriculum focuses on ethics — in part because of Regula, Schroeder said.
"Ralph was always doing the right thing," she said. "No matter what. Ralph always did the right thing."
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