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The Hankes: Loving life – and each other


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

So, the Hankes’ origin story: Ed’s brother and Kathy’s sister were dating, and they wanted Ed and Kathy to meet.

“No, thank you,” Ed told his brother. “Don’t get me wrong, but if Kathy is anything like her sister, she’s just not my type.”

“No, thank you,” Kathy told her sister. “Don’t get me wrong, but if Ed is anything like his brother, he’s just not my type.”

A few weeks later, Kathy was invited to a birthday party where a friend had lined up desirable suitors along a driveway for her to meet. She passed one after the other, then drew to a stop in front of…Ed.

“At that moment, they looked at each other, and say now, talking in unison, “Within seconds we knew we were meant for each other.”

The following night they went on their first date and saw Grease, each growing ever more confident that “you’re the one that I want,” and from that moment on, they were, well, hopelessly devoted to each other. Two years later Kathy (19) and Ed (21) married. 

Though they say theirs isn’t really a marriage.

Say what?

“How can I explain?” says Ed. “It’s so much more. We’re best friends. We love each other’s company. We support each other in every way. It’s always been that way.”

“I have to force him every now and again to go out with the guys,” she says. 

“I’d really prefer to hang out with Kathy almost always,” he says.

Which is not to say life has always been easy for the pair. The path of true love may have run smooth, but their work lives were rockier.

Kathy and Ed explore the world of work

Kathy started her career as a legal secretary, staying in that profession while they saved enough to buy a house and brought up their two sons. 

“I didn’t like it much. So much repetition, depositions, the same questions again and again, but I stuck it out,” she says. “But I’m a people person, not a paper person. And then carpal tunnel syndrome helped make the decision for me. I couldn’t type any more. When I turned 40, I decided to go to nursing school.”

The Hankes couple

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The Hankes love downtown Laguna Beach

Ed started out studying marine biology but gave that up to go to stunt school. “I specialized in being hit by cars – of course, I wasn’t actually hit – fights, and jumping 50 feet to land on a mat, just five foot by eight by three in those days,” he explains. “I loved it. Kathy didn’t. I was offered a full-time stuntman job at Universal, but I turned it down. She didn’t like how dangerous the job was. She was right.”

Ed’s lack of fear, and his ability to handle the toughest of physical challenges helped him when, while he was working at Alcoa, the Northridge earthquake set the plant shaking. “It was my job to ride the overhead crane, three stories high, to check for damage to the buildings,” he recalls. “Aftershocks set the crane swaying back and forth on the rails. Didn’t really bother me.”

His career with Alcoa, where he excelled as a millwright – which meant moving, assembling, installing, or dismantling machinery – ended due to a serious back injury, which exacerbated a degenerative disc disease diagnosed years earlier. So he had to quit work.

Ed and Kathy shrug as they tell the tale. “It was fine. We just go with the flow. That’s what we always do.” 

The Hankes smiling

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It was love at first sight and they feel the same 42 years later

Ed became the house-husband, responsible for yardwork, taking the kids to football practice (the Hankes were members of the high school football boosters and say that football is the way they met some of their closest friends), the housework, and some of the cooking, mostly barbecuing.

I ask if Kathy cooks too. They exchange knowing smiles.

“Well, now she does. She cooks the best fried chicken – using my mother’s recipe,” Ed says. “But at first – no. So one night early in our marriage I get home after a late shift, and she’s got the table all set and tells me the chicken is in the oven.”

Kathy palms her face. “Embarrassing!”

Ed continues, “I thought I smelled something burning. She said no, couldn’t be. I check the oven and see that paper towels are aflame.”

Kathy laughs. “I had followed the microwave directions for the chicken instead of the oven directions!”

Their lives take an unexpected turn

Kathy may not have been a whiz as a cook early on, but she became an excellent nurse after going to nursing school at Saddleback College at the age of 40. She turns serious when I ask her about some of the challenges she faced.

“I remember a young bodysurfer who’d become a quadriplegic after an accident. He couldn’t do anything by himself, not even breathe. He said to me all the time, ‘Could you please help me, I don’t want to live,’” she says. “It broke my heart. I took his case to the Ethics Committee and ultimately, after consulting with members of his family and the doctors and psychiatrists, he was taken off the ventilator. I knew it was what he wished, but it was hard, very emotional. The family invited me to his service.”

She also recalls that her first patient was dying of lung cancer – this shortly after Kathy’s mother had died of the same disease.

“I held it together, I didn’t cry,” she says. “But I leaked, I’ll admit that.”

Kathy is now in the great position of being a private nurse for two individuals with chronic illnesses. She loves it. “I’m able to dig deeper, develop bonds with my patients, and it’s a great feeling to know I’m able to help them navigate their health challenges.”

Her job includes coordinating care with doctors, accompanying her patients to appointments, and applying her considerable nursing skills at any given time.

“The bonus is that I get to go to social events with them that I’d never thought I’d ever attend,” Kathy adds. “Recently I flew to Sacramento with my client and sat courtside watching the Kings play the Lakers!”

The Hankes hands

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Ed and Kathy are seldom seen apart

The Hankes’ oldest son, Eddie, joined the Marines just days after graduating high school, inspired by 9/11, and did two tours in Iraq, “as a grunt” the Hankes say. He earned a Purple Heart, and upon returning home found it hard to pursue any career that required focus and concentration.

“But he’s going to welding school now, just like his younger brother Chris,” Kathy says, “and he’s currently working at Montage resort as a bellman. He says you get the best tips. And we get family discounts…it’s a great deal for us! Love that place!”

Other favorites are Nick’s (“love the seabass!”) and Selanne Steak Tavern.

Going with the flow the Hanke way

Three years ago, a fire caused by an exploding fish tank badly damaged their home (and ensured that they never again had fish as pets).

But these are minor hiccups in the happy Hanke household. 

Ed does admit that they didn’t agree initially about moving to the Laguna area from Monrovia. “We had a great house, best friends just two doors down from us,” he says. “Why move? But I believed in Kathy and now I’m so glad we live here.”

And Laguna Beach couldn’t be happier. First Ed, then Kathy got involved with the Patriots’ Day Parade. Ed has now volunteered his time for 14 years, the last two of which he has served as President of the nonprofit Patriots’ Day Parade organization.

“People think the city puts on the Parade, but really it’s the work of just a few dedicated citizens,” he says. “The city and the police and fire are very helpful though. It’s truly a labor of love.”

Ed also sings with LagunaTunes – he’s a baritone bass – which Kathy then joined as a tenor, “though I’d never sung before,” she says. “I absolutely love it. During rehearsals I just check out for a while and relax, breathe deeply. It’s so enjoyable.”

Her husband interjects, “Please let people know we need more men in LagunaTunes. We even buy them a beer when they join!”

Ed is also a wonderful mimic. I had the pleasure of hearing him do the voices of Donald Duck, Goofy, and Tony the Tiger – he even won a radio contest with his skills. 

They’re also both active volunteers for the Pageant of the Masters, Kathy as a make-up artist, at one point memorizing the first names of 150 participants. Ed revels in his role in The Last Supper.

“It’s a cycle,” Kathy says. “Patriots’ Day Parade, then the Pageant, then LagunaTunes…then it starts over again…that’s the rhythm of our lives and we love every moment, we appreciate every day in this beautiful part of the world, we share a sense of humor and that’s the most important thing.”

“And we meet the most wonderful people in Laguna,” Ed adds, “by just going with the flow. It’s the Hanke way.”