July 04, 2012 - There are people who grow up in a community, find a reason to leave and never return.
For most of his life, long-time Orion resident William G. Adams, who passed June 24 and was buried June 27, never found that reason. Adams belonged to a receding group from a bygone era of community-oriented people and his involvement left an imprint on many lives, including funeral attendees Jerry Narsh (LOPD Police Chief), John Ranville (Lake Orion Village Councilman) and Jim Leach (former LOPD Police Chief.)
"My story with Adams began in 1954 at Jacobsen's Greenhouse when he played Santa Claus," said Ranville. "My little sister was sitting on his lap the first time I met him, but after that my two daughters sat on his lap and eventually my grandson would too. That would be 20 years later and that was in 1992 - that's three generations."
Adams played Santa for multiple venues for around 30 years and truly took to the roll. Leach said instead of donning a fake beard, he would shave and glue the beard, bought from Frankenmuth every year, to his face, guaranteeing any curious child would find the beard firmly in place. Leach added his wife would usually design and make his outfit as well.
"Elaine Adams made the outfits for him, usually out of velvet," said Leach. "Back when Tesori Gift's was Gaylord Real Estate, he used to sit near the side door and be Santa Claus. You could come up and talk to him and tell him what your kids did - or didn't do - so he could relate it to the kids. It used to shock the hell out of the kids."
Leach added he would take any money earned as Santa and donate it to the Orion Lion's Club, where he was a past member and former president.
But being Santa was not the only aspect where Leach knew Adams, as the two served the Lake Orion Police Department. There, Adams, who served 40 years as a police officer before retiring, met a young Jerry Narsh fresh out of academy.
"He would always provide training for some of the newer officers and he always had a surefire way to test your toughness as a new recruit," said Narsh. "He would roll up the windows when taking guys out on the road. He was one of those guys who would always smoke those big cigars.
"He would sit there and calmly give you instruction all night and that was his test of your ability to withstand environments that you may not care for. He really was a great, great guy."
Narsh added that Adams made a point to know "just about everyone," and that he "optimized the affection and comfort of small town America." Because of his knowledge and charisma, people trusted him and respected him, according to Narsh. As a result, he said the police in Orion now seek to emulate that respect and charm.
"I rode with him several times and it was interesting - he never referred to a business or a house as 520 Bellevue or by addresses," said Narsh. "He would call it by the owner's name or by a neighbor's name. He would tell you the name of the people and he knew their history and issues. I believe that to be a good police officer, you have to know your community and you have to have their respect.
"That's what I learned from riding with Adams."
Adams also devoted 32 years of his life to being a MIchigan Bell technician. Ranville recalled running into him often as a nearby junction box was often the focus of Adam's repairs. Because Ranville showed an interest, on occasion, Adams would let him use the spurs to climb 4 feet up the telephone pole when he was about 8 or 10 years old. Another time, Ranville and his brother came out, excitedly yelling "hi Bill, hi Bill," when Adams sternly told both of them to wait on the porch.
"You knew by the way he said it that we were in trouble," said Ranville. "He got out the line checker and starts checking the line. Then he comes up to us and says 'you guys have been shooting bird off that wire haven't you?'" He told us to be careful and not use out little shotguns on the wires again."
Besides his experience as a police officer and a Michigan Bell technician, Adams was also an avid hunter and made sure to share that love with the youth of Orion by offering a gun safety club. He ran both the Lake Orion Gun Club and Archery Club and paid for much of the activities out-of-pocket. Leach believes that through his work with the clubs and by mentoring, Adams was able to keep a "lot of kids out of prison by just keeping them occupied."
"During a hunter safety course, he took us down to Camp Perry in Ohio and we went through a rifle training and shooting program," said Ranville. "I was in the gun club and with him for several years through the early 80's.
"Adams was very involved with the youth and the community. He was a good leader, good man and a good friend. It would take four or five people to fill his shoes and make up for the time he put into the community. There will never be another like him."
Narsh echoed the sentiment and said early on in his career, shortly after graduating from the academy, Adams was able to cheer him up - accidentally - after a friend and colleague passed.
"He had confused me for another graduate and this graduate had gone up to a cabin after graduating with his fionce where a fire caught and tragically, the both passed away," said Narsh. "(Adams) comes into the station and sees me sitting there and gets this look on his face. He stares at me and says 'who died?'"
Leach also had a fair share of funny stories to share about the veteran police officer. When he was chief, he put Adams and another, older officer named Bob Jubelt together in one squad car because he "didn't want them walking around on fireworks night."
They called the squad car the geriatric car.
He added "if you knew Bill you loved him."
Adams also served his country during World War II in the Navy, where he saw action at the Battle of Midway onboard the battleship U.S.S. South Dakota. He spent his last years in National City with his beloved wife Elaine.