Having grown up in south Altoona and lived on the same block as Dick Hankinson and his wife, Donna, I can't remember a time before I knew him.
We called him "Hank."
He was a few years older than most of us and that slight age difference led to a complexity of roles. For the neighborhood gang, he was first a friend who played pickup basketball and touch football with us.
Because of his maturity, he also became a teacher, a confidant and a mentor. Aside from my father, he was probably the most influential in guiding me toward being a teacher and a coach.
Hank didn't preach or pontificate, but in his presence, everyone acted differently. He just simply modeled who and what he was. Hank seldom, if ever, used the vernacular.
So, in his presence, neither did we. He didn't ask us not to. It was just the way he lived his life.
He was first and foremost a teacher, and he always reflected that in the manner in which he conducted himself in the "now."
As a Penn State grad and loyal Nittany Lion fan, Hank most reflected those lines contained in the alma mater, "May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name."
I can't remember any act of his that ever did or would.
While Hank was small in stature, he had a commanding presence. In his calming way, he could mediate conflicts. On the night of the widely-remembered YMCA Senior Championship game between Indiana AC and Penn Sill, at halftime, it was Hank who knew what to do.
Norm Van Lier had four fouls, and we had switched from playing man to a zone. We were down by 13, and Norm was angry because he knew we couldn't win in a zone.
Hank suggested it, "Norm, we'll play man on defense, but on offense, you've got to let Donnie Appleman run the ball."
Norm agreed and wound up with 50 points with Penn Sill winning 101-99.
As a teacher, Hank was an artist. He taught with "automaticity." His actions were not mechanical, but rather sprang from the same creative process that you would see in an accomplished point guard. They were intuitive, imaginative and inventive.
Indeed, while in the process of teaching, his mind would invent new procedures and processes that he would perform seconds later.
It was a knowledge and skill which couldn't be taught but was caught by others who observed his mastery as a teacher and coach.
It would be easy to end by saying, "There will never be another like him," but that is not true.
Hank lived his life in a manner that ensured that there will. There are people like Tim Little, who were students and co-teachers of Hank who caught his knowledge and ingenuity.
We will continue to see them in our midst.
Hank was, and is, an iconic figure of what our community and the Altoona Area School District have been about during my lifetime - a collection of ordinary people who live extra ordinary lives.
Dick Hankinson was one of them.
He chose to be a teacher, a mentor and a coach for a lifetime, not just for a year or a season.
And, because of him, more of them exist.
Tony Labriola resides in Altoona.