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Iowa man walks across the state to raise disabilities awareness

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | JULY 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Dale Hankins, 59, a big man with long, white hair slicked back into a ponytail and a scruffy, white beard, shuffled slowly along the sidewalk.

This is good practice, because he is walking across Iowa.

“I wanted to lose some weight, and I wanted to see if I could do it,” Hankins said with a smile. “This was a way to get out and see more of Iowa.”

The 300-mile trek is Hankins’ way of promoting disabilities awareness and to giving more recognition to an organization he is very involved in, Uptown Bill’s Coffeehouse & Neighborhood Art Center, 730 S. Dubuque St.

Following the Lincoln Highway, Hankins started in Clinton and headed west.

Hankins, who is retired and on long-term disability, understands why this trek is so important.

“I am now diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” he said. “I have delusions or hallucinations at times.”

Hankins said his problems began on the operating table on 9/11 when he lost his kidney to cancer.

He wrote a book on his “transformation” from 9/11 to the book’s completion in 2008 called Just Dale. Hankins said he was inspired by Barry Morrow, the screenwriter for the Bill Sackter movies.
“I call it fiction for everybody else,” Hankins said.

Uptown Bill’s Coffeehouse is named for Bill Sackter, a mentally disabled man who became the face of the University of Iowa School of Social Work after spending 45 years institutionalized.

Though “a patron more than a volunteer now” at Uptown Bill’s, Hankins views the store as a “home base” and has many good friends at the business.

Brad Eaton, who has known Hankins for about six years, said he views the journeyman as big.

“I mean, not big in the physical sense but that he’s got a big presence and a big heart,” the 62-year-old said. “He tells you what he thinks.”

Morrow feels the same way.

“What’s amazing is inside that great, big package is a kind gentle and thoughtful man,” the screenwriter said. “The hallmark about Dale is his kindness, and he’s made it his mantra.”

Hankins, like Morrow, befriended David Young, who was institutionalized from age 7 to 27, through the store six years ago.

“Dale sort of took David under his wing, as I did with Bill,” Morrow said, seeing a parallel in the two stories

Young said the two share a bond because of their disabilities.

“What I find really appealing about Dale is that he is very comfortable in his own skin,” Morrow said. “I feel comfortable around him. That’s part of our relationship, too.”

And so do others.

Eaton volunteers to drive Hankins back and forth from Iowa City to where he leaves off.

Leaving around 7:30 a.m., the two usually find a group getting coffee in the morning — where they wind up interacting with locals.

“When I’m walking and just see and taking pictures, it’s beautiful, people just don’t know,” Hankins said, his face lighting up. “I didn’t know.”

He doesn’t solicit, but he does mention his cause to passersby.

Dressed in a Walt Whitman Hat and red or blue sneakers, Hankins might pass on by.

“But if you walk, I’ll buy you a T-shirt,” Hankins said.


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