Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Ken Adams, who was a leader in Wellington’s incorporation effort, died after a prolonged illness at the age of 90 in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 11.
A retired U.S. Air Force major, Adams bought a chain of True Value hardware stores in upstate New York after his military service. He moved to South Florida with his wife Arle after selling the hardware stores, making their home on 50 acres in the Little Ranches neighborhood in 1978, where they kept horses and foxhounds. They held hunts in Binks Forest, which was undeveloped at the time.
Former Wellington Mayor Tom Wenham recalled many conversations with Adams about Palm Beach County and the future of Wellington, which had not yet incorporated.
“He was very interested in the Village of Wellington and Palm Beach County,” Wenham said. “He and Arle were interested in the equestrian events. He was a great person for us out here west of West Palm Beach. His thoughts and love were with the village, and as a county commissioner, he took that very seriously.”
Ken Adams started the first fox hunt in Wellington with the help of fellow Wellington pioneer A.W. “Bink” Glisson in the then-undeveloped area that came to be known as Binks Forest.
Glisson is also credited with convincing New York accounting magnate C. Oliver Wellington to buy the land that became Wellington in the 1950s. Glisson spearheaded the creation of the Acme Improvement District, which was Wellington’s pre-incorporation government. It still exists today as a special purpose district operated by the village to oversee mostly drainage issues.
After a conversation with Roger Wellington, who took over his father’s holdings upon the senior Wellington’s death, Adams took a seat on the Acme Improvement District Board of Supervisors, later replacing Wellington as chair. Soon after that, Adams was elected to the Palm Beach County Commission, where he served from 1985 to 1988. From the county commission, Adams headed to the South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors.
Former County Commissioner Jess Santamaria recalled his 40-year friendship with Adams.
“I had the good fortune of meeting Ken in 1980, when he walked into my office and he asked if I had available vacant space in the Royal Plaza Shopping Center for a True Value Hardware store,” Santamaria recalled. “I informed Mr. Adams that phase one of my shopping center was already 100 percent committed to other businesses. However, I would have space in phase two the next year. Ken informed me he wanted to open right away, so he decided to take a vacant space in a shopping center at the southeast corner of Okeechobee Blvd. and Military Trail.”
However, that was just the start of a decades-long friendship.
“Because Ken lived in Little Ranches, half a mile from my office, we soon developed a friendship that started with lunches at the Royal Inn and Royal Plaza restaurants, and eventually led to dinners with our respective wives, Arle and Victoria,” Santamaria said. “When the polo matches started in Wellington, Ken would ask us to join him and Arle at the games. It was not long after, he decided to campaign for the Palm Beach County Commission, which I supported.”
He won that election and soon found himself as chairman of the Palm Beach County Commission. “He thereafter, proved to be an outstanding and prominent government official, which included being appointed chairman of the South Florida Water Management District, while I continued my commercial and residential development projects through the western communities,” Santamaria said.
It was during his service on these boards that Adams learned of the many advantages of incorporation for the fast-growing Wellington community. Working with a core group of community leaders, Adams was a key member of the team that worked to pass legislation in Tallahassee and conducted a successful incorporation referendum in 1995.
“After the first failure to incorporate Wellington, Ken spearheaded Wellington’s second attempt to incorporate, and this time it was successful,” Santamaria said. “There was nothing in Wellington and Palm Beach County that Ken Adams was involved in during his 40 years in the community that was not successful. He was always asked to be the leader or chairman of any activity he was involved in. I have never heard anyone utter a single negative word about Ken Adams — in businesses, politically or personally. Those are the reasons I state that no one has done more for Wellington than Ken Adams!”
Current Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig remembers Adams as having a high ethical sense and a deep understanding of the area.
She and her husband, Alan Gerwig of the engineering firm Alan Gerwig & Associates, were one of the first tenants at the Lake Wellington Professional Centre, which was built and owned by Adams before he sold it to the village in 2013.
“Really, just knowing him from his influence on Wellington, from my professional experience on the council, seeing him as a steady hand we could always rely on for information and for background,” Gerwig said, adding that he was conscientious that government must be conducted in an admirable and honorable way.
She recalled that Ken Adams Way in Wellington was originally slated to be Ken Adams Drive, but Adams asked that the street be named Ken Adams Way as a nod to his wife.
“He is the one who wanted it changed to ‘Way,’ because Arle always told him he always wanted his way,” Gerwig said. “So, now he would have his way.”
Adams was predeceased by his beloved wife Arle, who died in 2017. They had no children. Adams will be buried with his wife at the South Florida National Cemetery.
Village Manager Paul Schofield said that Adams will be missed by many people in the community.
“Wellington is deeply saddened by the loss of a great leader, community advocate and friend,” he said. “We are grateful to Mr. Adams for his dedication to making Wellington a great place for everyone. His foresight and wisdom early in the village’s development was instrumental in Wellington becoming what it is today. Ken loved the village, and he was greatly invested in our hometown. He was a tireless, dedicated advocate for Wellington. Ken Adams is part of what made Wellington such a unique and special place. His memory lives on in the road that bears his name, Ken Adams Way, and his inclusion on our Founders Plaque.”
Wellington will honor Adams with a closed-casket viewing on Saturday, Nov. 21. The public is invited to pay their respects at the Wellington Community Center (12150 W. Forest Hill Blvd.) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors must follow all Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines, including social distancing and wearing a mask.
Those unable to attend the viewing will have a chance to see the procession and viewing on WellingtonTV (Comcast 18, AT&T Uverse 99) next week.