SCHERERVILLE | Hank Adams, the first Republican to hold a countywide office in Lake County in more than 50 years, died Sunday.
Adams, 77, had been battling cancer for more than a year. He resigned from his elected post as Lake County assessor less than a week ago.
Adams had undergone chemotherapy and returned to work earlier this year. His wife, Jean Shepherd, said Adams wanted to work until he absolutely couldn't work anymore.
His health started to deteriorate about two weeks ago when he had a relapse, she said. He spent his last days at his Schererville home.
"He went quietly and peacefully," she said. "I'm happy that he could go that way and that he wasn't in pain anymore."
Lake County Republican Party Chairman Dan Dernulc, who also serves on the Lake County Council, said he lost a friend in Adams, and the GOP lost an effective leader in the realm of county property assessments and taxes.
"He was a ray of light for our party and for the county, and we will continue to keep carrying his torch," Dernulc said.
Adams was a Tennessee native who moved to Northwest Indiana to run appliance stores in Gary and Hammond. He became involved in politics in 1991 after complaining to the Schererville Town Council about an ugly strip mall it approved. Officials at the time told him to mind his own business.
He went on to serve as the St. John Township assessor for 16 years. In 2010, he ran for county assessor and became the first Republican in decades to hold an elected countywide position.
"He took that office and he worked very hard to get (tax) bills out on time with the limited resources he had and made the county better off financially," Dernulc said last week.
Lake County Councilman Gerry Scheub said he has known Adams since the 1950s. He said Adams took his position seriously and left his mark on county government.
"Hank always did as much as he could and tried to do it very honestly," Scheub said. "And he did a very good job as a county assessor."
Shepherd, who is the St. John Township trustee, said her husband had a rough exterior because politicians are expected to be tough. She called him a shark, but she also knew he had a softer side.
She said she could sense his softer, more affectionate side from across a room.
"He would give me that little smile and wink just to put me right over the edge," she said. "He was my guy. He loved me without a doubt."
The two had been together for 10 years and got married this summer. She said they spent almost every day together attending political functions to running mundane errands like shopping at the Dollar Store.
Professionally, Shepherd cites Adams work to get tax bills out on time as one of his greatest accomplishments as county assessor.
"He was an honest person, that's hard to find in a politician," she said. "He always said that he wasn't a politician. We just tried to do a good job."
Investigative Editor Marc Chase contributed to this report.