Kathy and Ninus Hopkins met in 1968 through one of Ninus’ family members. “It was pretty much love at first site, and we didn’t spend many days apart from then on,” says Kathy. They were married in 1969.
“It was a wonderful dynamic – didn’t have any of the stereotypes of blended families,” says Ninus, age 75, who had three children prior to meeting Kathy, age 69. They had a fourth child in 1976.
As a biracial couple and family, “We got devil stares when we went out sometimes – that part wasn’t the best, but we made it work. Love don’t come in colors, and when we showed them love, it proved it didn’t make a difference,” says Ninus.
“We always ask each other – ‘What can I do to make you have a better day?’ Holding hands, looking at each other in the eyes, asking ‘Are you happy? What happened today when I wasn’t with you?’ Asking questions to make sure we feel safe, comfortable, and honest with each other.” ~Ninus Hopkins
Once their little birds flew the coop in 1988, these lovebirds found others in need of care – empty nesters Kathy and Ninus became drivers for Access Paratransit. [Access was originally called Seattle Personal Transit, which was a program of Solid Ground, then known as Fremont Public Association.]
“It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment idea, when we saw a Seattle Personal Transit vehicle serving a someone in a wheelchair,” says Kathy, who was intrigued. “Ninus’ mom was an amputee, and in those days, many places and homes were not accessible to people with disabilities. People were often shut in because their transportation choices were limited, and when they arrived, that destination might not be able to accommodate their ADA needs.”
When Seattle Personal Transit became Solid Ground Transportation and began offering Access Paratransit service, the region’s ability to serve residents with disabilities expanded significantly.
“Some people would get on the [Access] bus and they would be excited that they could even see cars and move around. Lots of joyous moments from people. You might be the only person that that person had spoken to in weeks!” says Kathy.
It’s come full circle with COVID-19.
“A lot of our riders are sheltering in place and not going anywhere, and when they do go somewhere, not as frequently. Sometimes they say something that makes you happy, sometimes they say something that makes you want to cry.”
Ninus recalls one heartbreaking story: “There was a lady who brought a lunch bag with her onto the bus, I could see through the bag that her sandwich bread was covered in mold. And I said, ‘Whoa, is that a homemade sandwich? I haven’t had one like that in a while! Could I have that one and buy you another one?’ And she said, ‘Why, yes!’ I asked her what kind she liked, and she told me tuna. So I went and bought her a tuna sandwich and was able to take her moldy one away.”
Learning to serve vulnerable populations safely and with dignity is part of job training. But it also takes a special kind of person.
“Each ride is different, and you have to be prepared for each moment to be different. Even something simple like the radio being on could make a person laugh or cry because it’s bringing up a memory. There are people that we pick up that judge you without even knowing who you are. Kindness is always the best thing to do, and that’s what we always try to make sure we do – make sure we’re kind,” says Ninus.
Kathy and Ninus have been married 51 years and are the longest-standing drivers for Access Paratransit, going on 32 years now, (still) employed by contractor Solid Ground Transportation. In addition to four children, they’ve got 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren to also keep them busy.
Spoiler alert: The qualities they love most about one another happen to be exceptionally great qualities to have when serving customers who are elderly and disabled on Access Paratransit.
Ninus loves that Kathy is “patient, very honest, kind, and caring. She will always hold her hand out to help anybody, all the time. She has that special, special quality about being a real human – always trying to help others.”
About Ninus, Kathy says his best features are “his patience, his calmness, his thoughtfulness – brings me flowers and gifts all the time.” Plus, “he’s six-foot-four-inches, and good looking – still!”
The secret to a lasting marriage?
“We always ask each other – ‘What can I do to make you have a better day?’” says Ninus. “Holding hands, looking at each other in the eyes, asking ‘Are you happy? What happened today when I wasn’t with you?’ Asking questions to make sure we feel safe, comfortable, and honest with each other.”
And final advice, whether it’s work or your relationship: “Go the extra mile with a smile.”