CONNIE HANKINS, 68
GORDON HANKINS, 75
As long as she can remember, Connie Hankins has felt great compassion for babies and children. Growing up on an Iowa farm, she spent many days nursing sick baby animals back to health. While living in South Korea with her husband, Gordon, she often surprised children at a local orphanage with toys and treats. And as a nurse in suburban Chicago, she held the hands of anxious children as they awaited surgery. "When kids are sick," says the mother of two grown children, "you just want to make it better."
So when Hankins and her husband faced retirement, helping kids in need became a top priority. As co-chairs of the Therapy Oriented Tricycle (TOT) project (pioneersvolunteer.org), they log 100 hours a month every summer customizing tricycles with upright handlebars and supportive seat backs to accommodate children with illnesses such as spina bifida or cerebral palsy. Since 1998 they've given over 900 free trikes to kids nationwide. "I was to the point of happy tears when Connie pulled the bike out," says Christin Tatarelis, 34, whose son, Lance, 3, suffers from a brain abnormality. "When Lance rides, he's so proud, like he's saying, 'Look what I can do!'" Says Connie: "Seeing the joy these parents and their children have is all the reward we need."
KNOW A HERO? SEND SUGGESTIONS TO HEROESAMONGUS@PEOPLEMAG.COM