Nancy Kleihauer Adams ’64

Unlike most politicians and government leaders, Pequot Lakes, Minn., Mayor Nancy Kleihauer Adams ʼ64 never planned to enter politics. “I just felt I had more to offer than the two men who were running,” says the second-term mayor.

Nancy Adams
Nancy Adams

When there is a need, Adams is the type of person to step to the front of the line. She remembers running the summer migrant program for the Palatine, Ill., school district for five years as a profound experience. “I took the job on the condition we used no textbooks, workbooks or ditto sheets—just hands-on learning,” she recalls. “The teachers believed in it and worked so hard to develop an amazing program for 250 Hispanic students. We saw the results of our efforts by extremely high attendance and enthusiasm on the part of students and parents alike.”

She says her volunteer and work experience since graduating from Cornell, beginning as an early childhood teacher, has helped to cull three keys to a successful life: “Not being afraid to try new things. Having the willingness to listen to what others say and pick the best thoughts, whether they are yours or not. And understanding that saying ‘thank you’ costs nothing but goes a long way in making people feel appreciated.”

Adams was an elementary education and Spanish major at Cornell, and appreciates the emphasis on writing and rewriting papers. Education professor D.J. Newberry was especially inspirational to her affinity to tackle a challenge. “She set an example as she was never afraid to dig in the mud or anything else,” Adams says.

Kismet played a hand in her future when Cornellʼs registrar called her about a new student teaching program in Chicago. That was ultimately how she connected with her husband, Tom Adams ʼ63, then in graduate school at the University of Chicago.

After vacationing in Pequot Lakes since the ’70s, the Adamses decided to move to the rural community of 2,000 year-round after Tom’s retirement from First Chicago, and leapt into volunteer work in the community. Tom, a Life Trustee of Cornell, was pulled into planning and zoning, as well as chairing the lake association.

Before becoming mayor, Adams wrote the local food column for five years and was a major force in starting a library. “Now in its eighth year, it continues to be operated by volunteers who raise 90 percent of the operating costs,” she says. “Two years ago, the library board purchased a new building for $200,000 and only have $9,000 left to pay off. It is an amazing accomplishment that gives credit to many, many people who believed it could be done.”