At Highland Square’s java haunt, Angel Falls Coffee Company, you’ve probably seen him. Chances are, you likely know him. And if you don’t know him you will at some point.
Say “hello” to Jerry Raker. Unless he says “hey” first. And that’s more than likely.
“I’m just naturally social, not afraid of crowds or talking to people,” says Raker, a 31-year Akron resident who grew up in Wadsworth.
Raker says the cafe “is my home away from home.” It’s also where he has cultivated a generous array of friendships and acquaintances. He’s been referred to as the “unofficial mayor of Highland Square.”
I met Raker in December 2011, when I was jockeying with my laptop for the day’s password at Angel Falls’ counter. He approached me with the password and said, “I just wanted to talk with you.”
He was smooth. His background seems to lend itself to an individual who would innately be outgoing. After all, he taught ballroom dancing before traveling the globe 20 years as an instructor for a New York-based hair group. And for the past 16 years, he’s been cutting hair, the last 14 of which have been at Headwaves Hair Salon at Westgate Plaza.
Evidently, working with his hair clients throughout the years has allowed Raker to morph into other professions as well.
“We are a doctor, a lawyer, a psychic, you name it …,” Raker says
“Jerry’s a good person to be friends with; he’s always got your back,” says Jim King, who opened the cafe in 1996 with his partner, Rafael Oletta, and has known Raker since then.
Raker’s foray into the world of hair came serendipitously.
“I was traveling with women who needed their hair done while we were doing ballroom dance competitions,” Raker recalls. “And I thought, ‘Why not learn to do hair while I traveled to make extra money?'”
That career move took place after he got out of Vietnam, where he spent 29 months.
“I was still in high school and got drafted on my birthday when I turned 18,” Raker says. “I went ahead an enlisted in the Marine Corp., and a week after I graduated I went to boot camp.”
On his experience in Southeast Asia, Raker says: “You know what? That was another life.”
The 66-year-old Raker, whose friends run the gamut of age, and who has a best friend, Brian, a 30-something educator, says ” honesty and loyalty” are what anchor a friendship.
He adds that friendships are important because “there’s a lot of lonely people out there, and you don’t want to see them lonely.” King would agree about Raker’s philosophy.
“Jerry’s very outgoing and always friendly to strangers.”
A creative man, Raker designs jewelry on the side, doing beading and wire wrapping, citing his work has “no two creations alike.” His discovery of jewelry design unfolded much like his career in hair styling. Unexpectedly.
While representing his hair salon during a bridal show about nine years ago, there was a woman “making beautiful necklaces, earrings and bracelets for bridal parties,” Raker says.
“It looked so interesting, so I asked her how she did it,” he adds. “So after the show, she stayed with me for about a half an hour and showed me how she did it. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
When he’s not at Angel Falls, where he says, “Believe it or not, I’m not here all the time,” Raker enjoys playing cards (canasta), singing, crafts, music and the “arts in general.”
During high school, he was on student council, sang in choirs as well as in a chorus of 12 called the Duotones, “the Glee of the 60s,” Raker adds with a grin.
The espresso machine shrieks at Angel Falls one late afternoon. Seated at a table, Raker threads beads onto a metal necklace. A woman coos over the design, says hello, and gives him a peck on the cheek before wishing him well.
About twenty minutes later, another grabs her to-go coffee and gives him a hug before leaving.
To the casual observer, all that may be missing would be for Raker to be wearing a pinkie ring and ordering a hit.
Political aspirations for Raker?
“Akron’s a big city, small town,” he says. “I’d be willing to run for mayor of Highland Square, but I wouldn’t win. My platform would be the importance of friendships and coffee for everyone.”