LIMA — Among those volunteering for the annual Ellis Easter dinner at Veterans Memorial Civic Center on March 27, 2005, was 84-year-old Dorthy Riker. It was Riker’s 14th year serving at the community dinner.
Riker had been serving the community a long time before she lent a hand at the Easter Dinner. Starting in the late 1940s with the Parent Teacher Association at Faurot Elementary School, Riker would go on to serve with numerous community groups, including the United Way, the Memorial Hospital board and, beginning in 1973, as not only the first person to represent Lima’s newly created 8th Ward but also as the first woman to be elected to Lima City Council.
In an Aug. 20, 1989, interview with The Lima News, Riker recalled her first days on Council 16 years earlier. “First when I was on Council, men didn’t know how to address me,” she said, noting that memorandums and letters would be addressed to “Mrs. Riker and city council.”
“I’d say, ‘I am a part of city council. Just say, Dear members of city council.’ You could almost feel them stumbling through the words,” she said. “It became laughable.”
Dorothy Luella Cunningham was born Nov. 23, 1920, to Donald Charles “Clifford” Cunningham and Helen Dorothy Kennedy Cunningham. On Nov. 20, 1925, just before her fifth birthday, her 26-year-old father, who worked as a brakeman on the B&O Railroad, was killed when, according to the following day’s edition of the News, “he fell under a cut of cars in the north Lima B&O yards.”
Dorothy (she would later change the spelling of her name), her sister and brother — a second brother died in infancy the same year her father was killed — were raised by their widowed mother, who worked at the DWG cigar factory.
On April 19, 1938, in the St. Rose Rectory, Dorothy Cunningham married Edgar Riker. The couple settled in at 326 S. Collett St., a place they would call home for the next 42 years and where they would raise two daughters and a son. The couple remained married for 60 years until Edgar Riker’s death in June 1998.
Dorthy Riker began compiling her resume of public service in 1948 when she became active in the PTA. Forty-six years later, on March 25, 1994, in a brief story for Women’s History Month, the News compiled a list of her many accomplishments. “She was a member of the board of directors for seven years for the Ohio Congress of Parents and Teachers and is a former member of the board for Child and Family Services and the YWCA (where she also worked for many years). She has been an active volunteer for Girl Scouts, PTA, United Way and League of Women Voters. The Soroptimist Club named her ‘Woman of the Year’ in 1979. She received the Appleseed Ridge Girl Scout Golden Paradigm in 1991 for women of achievement.
“She was appointed in 1993 to the City Planning Commission and the Board of Adjustments,” the story concluded, failing to mention that she also spooned out green beans at the Easter dinner.
Oh, and she was the first woman to serve on Lima City Council.
On Jan. 30, 1973, the News reported that Riker was one of four people to file petitions for the Council race. Riker, the paper wrote, “has long been active in Lima PTA and school activities. She was a state district PTA director for the Lima area and chairman of the Lima citizens school advisory committee. She has been a director of the YWCA and a United Fund volunteer.”
That November, Riker won election by a commanding margin to become the first 8th Ward council member, beginning her first term on Jan. 7, 1974. She was assigned to council’s parks and recreation committee. She also would serve on council’s legislative, code and judicial committee. On Nov. 5, 1975, Riker won re-election, this time to her first four-year term.
Several weeks later, Riker spoke of her influence on city Council after she was honored as part of the International Women’s Year. “I feel it has brought a balanced thinking to the actions taken on many ordinances that affect the whole area,” she told the News on Nov. 23, 1975. “Women seem to have the ability to ask questions until they get the proper answers. With my serving on council I hope it has opened the way for other women who are willing to give their time and talent to work for a better community.”
Riker continued to give her time and talent to council, winning re-election several more times, and debating issues ranging from cable rate hikes to city pay freezes and cable rate hikes. In February 1976, during a debate over whether the city should use a federal grant for city services, Riker expressed her frustration at council members being labeled pro-administration or pro-council.
“I take offense to any kind of label because I’m an independent voter,” she told the News on Feb. 20, 1976. “Compromise is the name of politics. We have worked together on ticklish problems before and we can again. We can’t have a council and administration standoff. I think it’s time we weld together as one group and let’s get this on the road.”
Riker helped city council get it “on the road” until 1991 when she resigned because she and her husband, after 42 years, were moving from 326 S. Collett St. to 1728 W. High St., which is in the 4th Ward. Riker continued to work as a volunteer and was appointed to the city’s Strategic Plan Task Force by Mayor David Berger.
When she died on Feb. 25, 2015, her obituary noted that she was a “homemaker and an engaged citizen,” who admired Democratic President Harry Truman for his leadership of the country in the difficult years after World War II as well as former Republican 4th District Congressman William McCulloch for his work on the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.