WINONA LAKE — History seems to suggest that Winona Lake Clerk-Treasurer Kent Adams could be a real-life version of Harvey Keitel’s role as “the cleaner” in the classic motion picture “Pulp Fiction.” The 82-year-old Winona Lake resident has a history of stepping into public service roles when things need a good scrubbing.
His propensity for taking on challengers in elections and coming out on top also gives him a stark resemblance to the modern day football team from New England. Just like the Patriots, if you find yourself competing against Adams — you have your work cut out for you. Unlike the NFL team from Foxborough, Mass., Adams has yet to suffer an election defeat.
Adams’ success seems to stem from an innate ability to see a problem and find a quick, inexpensive solution. In his clerk-treasurer’s office at Winona Lake Town Hall, Adams’ wife of 59 years, Nancy, volunteered to stamp envelopes for the town’s several thousand sewage bills. This knack for economizing has given the two-term clerk-treasurer bragging rights on a town budget that has been flourishing in the black for some time.
However, it wasn’t always that way, and the 1955 Warsaw High School graduate has made a career out of stepping into troubled waters and righting the ship
Adams’ appetite for public service was whetted when he met former Indiana Gov. Otis R. Bowen. At the time, Kent and Nancy lived in Bremen where Adams was a principal at the local school.
“When he (Bowen) announced for governor, we let the kids out of school for a couple of hours and he announced on his front porch,” said Adams. “I met him and he’s the one who was my mentor for a number of years.”
Adams took on an incumbent township trustee in the Bremen area and won his first election in 1968 on the heels of fiscal miscues by the incumbent. It was the Warsaw native’s first chance to take the helm and make a change for the positive. “We had an advisory board that wasn’t getting much information and we refined all that and made it all transparent,” he said. “They hadn’t been used to that.”
From township trustee, Adams first set his sights on the Indiana House of Representatives and then the State Senate. He served on both bodies without ever having to make a concession speech.
The Adamses, with five children and 19 grandchildren, began to feel the crunch of attending activities involving the children and their children and also serving in a state-level elected post.
“I got out of the Senate in 2004 because we had kids in activities and I was driving 40,000 miles around the state,” Adams said.
At the same time, Adams said he was contacted by members of the financial community about the possibility of applying his special fiscal knack to the office of county treasurer. Adams ran and won election to the county post.
From the county office, Adams turned his attention to the local school board and served there until it was time to focus his attention on the town of Winona Lake.
Wrapping up his second term and planning to file this week to run for a third term, Adams has controlled the town’s purse strings with his usual finesse and savvy, boasting a 2019 budget that is expected to be more than 3 percent less than the previous year.
“Some people locally came to me and said we need some changes,” said Adams of his decision to run for clerk-treasurer the first time. “I don’t know of any other political municipality or entity in the state that has no debt.”
Adams said living a life of public service, which has included a year as a state trooper and a total of 31 years in public education, has been about giving back to his community.
“It’s serving others in the community,” he said. “I just feel like I still have the opportunity to contribute and I still have the availability to do that and it’s the peoples’ choice. These buildings belong to all of us.”
Adams’ success, according to his wife, is a product of the mentoring he received as a youngster and early adult. During his high school career and on into his college years, Adams played football and other sports and was surrounded by leaders that, today, are considered local legends. He played football at Warsaw High School for both George Fisher and Frank Sanders. At Manchester College, he was inspired by Carl Burt and Gerold “Doe” Faudree.
“He likes to be involved and he grew up in an era where the coaches really cared about the kids and he feels like he was really blessed that that happened,” said Nancy Adams. “He really feels like they gave him the incentive to succeed and to help other people.”
Despite Adams’ talent for fixing things and then moving on to the next challenge, Nancy Adams thinks that while Winona Lake’s books are more balanced than a carpenter’s level, the cleaner isn’t going to rest on his laurels and look for more floors to scrub — even though history suggests he could whitewash those decks with the efficiency in which he’s mopped the floors of all his previous political opponents.
“There was a lot of turmoil here when he came in and he just enjoys the interaction,” she said. “I’ve read about people who don’t retire and they die on the job, and that may be him.”