By Gary Carroll
Within our community we have a war hero, entrepreneur, public servant, and civic leader all rolled into one individual — Jim Rankin, owner of Rankin’s Hardware and Rankin’s Furniture Store in Warrenton. And yet, when asked for an interview for Lifestyle, he asked why anyone would be interested in hearing his story, saying all he could offer was that he is a lifetime resident of Fauquier Country and a local businessman. There’s so much more to his story.
His family lived and farmed in Bealeton when he was born in 1931. If you meet him for the first time, however, you may distrust this calculation of his age. His energy, fitness, and apparent good health suggests a man much younger than 88. Listening to his story, on the other hand, may lead you to wonder how someone could accomplish so much in one lifetime, especially without a complete formal education. His daughter probably summed it up best; when asked to chat about her father she simply said, “He’s a great man.”
In 1951, he volunteered for the U.S. Army during a period of intense fighting in the Korean War–the “forgotten war” between World War II and the Vietnam conflict. Why volunteer? Well, Rankin said he thought it was his duty to serve, following in his father’s footsteps, who was a decorated soldier fighting in France during World War I. Clay Preston Rankin won the Silver Star for heroism when he showed “remarkable courage” under heavy enemy machine-gun fire. He also received the Italian War Cross and was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross. His memory was honored in 2015 when the Meetze Road Bridge over Route 29 in Warrenton was renamed PFC Clay Preston Rankin, USA Bridge.
Jim Rankin’s next call to duty led to his entering the Korean War as part of the elite 187th Airborne Infantry Combat Team. During his 26 months of combat duty, he earned two Bronze Stars for bravery under fire and the Combat Infantry Badge. He remembers being called on to put down a revolt and attempted escape by some 80,000 enemy soldiers from a POW camp on the island of Koje-Do. Prisoners dug tunnels and fashioned homemade weapons, including knives, firearms and Molotov cocktails. Rankin’s unit was tasked with putting down the revolt and recapturing the prisoners. He recalled that they were forced to use flamethrowers to force prisoners out of the tunnels, and bayonets to subdue them in hand-to-hand combat.
Returning to the States in 1953, Rankin joined Trentis General Store in Catlett and worked there and at the Trentis store in Warrenton until 1965. In January 1966, over his wife’s objections, he borrowed the necessary funds and struck out on his own in the hardware business, establishing Rankin’s True Value Hardware at the Warrenton Northern Virginia Shopping Center. This venture required a good deal of risk and self-confidence on his part. In 1979, his success allowed him to expand his business to a larger location in the same shopping center, where it is currently located.
Over time, he expanded his business further by opening True Value Hardware stores in King George and Colonial Beach, managed by two of his children, Alvin and Beverly. His son Glen now manages the hardware store in Warrenton. In 1992, he branched out further by opening the furniture store at the intersection of Routes 29 and 211, where he sells high quality furniture with the assistance of his daughter Alice. It means a lot to Rankin that all his children have joined him, making it a real family business. When reminded that some believe his prices are higher than some chain furniture stores in the area, he insisted he takes pride in selling only good quality furniture.
While running his businesses, Rankin entered public service and was elected to the County Board of Supervisors where he served from 1984 to 1992. This was a period of great change for the county. This was a time when the population of the county increased dramatically, and the Board had to confront the challenges of growth in the county. It was also during this period that Rankin appointed the first African American, Roland Tapscott, to a major county position — the County Planning Commission. Rankin was the logical choice when a serving Supervisor died in 1998 leaving a vacancy that Rankin filled for an interim period.
Somehow Rankin found time to help “Improve the Quality of Life for all Fauquier Citizens” as an award from the Department of Parks and Recreation noted. He is a Life Member of the U.S. Jaycees after serving many years with the Warrenton chapter of this community service organization. He helped to establish the local American Legion Post and has served as the Commander during his time as a member. He has received awards from the national American Legion for his contributions and formal recognition from the Rotary Club, Liberty and Fauquier High Schools, County Parks and Recreation, as well as Little League baseball teams that he has sponsored. In addition, he has been an active leader in the work of Midland Brethren Church where he is a member. Clearly, he is extensively involved in his community.
Don’t worry, despite his 88 years, he has not thought of retiring. He said he must work to keep from going crazy. And then, with a slight smile, he added, “but maybe I’ll take a little more time off.”
And he has quite the family to spend his growing free time with. Rankin and his wife Shirley just celebrated their 65 wedding anniversary this past March. In addition to their four children, eight grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren, the couple just welcomed their first great, great-grandchild, a girl, this past February.