Hodnett was the son of John and Ella Hodnett of Kentucky. He earned a degree in civil engineering at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia and served as a 1st Lieutenant with the U.S. Army Rangers supporting the 101st Airborne Division in the Korean War. He was awarded the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge during the war, and later rose to the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Hodnett married the former Mary Anne Quinnelly on June 11, 1951 and had four daughters. He moved with his family to Birmingham after leaving active duty to work for U.S. Steel. He built the fifth house in what later became Hoover, and helped organized the community's first volunteer fire department. When the community was incorporated as the City of Hoover in 1967 he served as president of the Hoover City Council. In 1975 he succeeded O. E. Braddock as Mayor, serving one six-year term.
After three decades with U.S. Steel, Hodnett retired and took a position as facilities manager for the American Red Cross. He also served as a Deacon and Sunday School teacher at Shades Mountain Independent Church and as a member of the board of the Tenco Credit Union.
Hodnett died in March 2017. He was survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery.
- "John W. Hodnett Jr." obituary (March 8, 2017) The Birmingham News