Future Kansas Minority Leader John O. Adams was born on September 24, 1889, in Langley, Ellsworth County, Kansas, and was the eldest of five brothers and also the eighth member of the Adams family to carry the first name of John. When he was very young his parents moved the family to a home near Delphos, Kansas. His father became the proprietor of a general merchandise store there and later served as mayor of the town. John, or “Jack” as his friends called him, attended elementary and high school in Delphos and then enrolled at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where he intended to earn a degree in law. His studies were interrupted, however, when the death of his father from blood poisoning forced him to return home and take over management of the store.
On June 3, 1916, John married Pansy Alice Marshall in Shawnee County, Kansas. In 1917 John and Pansy moved to Fort Morgan, Colorado, where John went to work for the J. C. Penney Company. Four years later he joined the J. B. Byers Clothing Company at Yuma, Colorado. Then in 1924 John took over the management of the Byers store in Osborne, Kansas, which he operated for five years until the Byers Company merged with the J. C. Penney Company. He then continued to operate the local J. C. Penney store for the next 19 years. His wife Pansy had died in 1941 and John married Margaret (Marge) Pfortmiller on June 12, 1946, in Osborne.
John was also active in the social and political affairs of Osborne County. He served on the Osborne City Council and local Board of Education as well as president of the Osborne Chamber of Commerce. “I was county chairman of the Democratic Party when Democrats were scarce,” he once said. “Bob Clark, Charley Smith, Hud Turner and I used to meet every election year in the telephone booth to get someone to run for office.”
In 1950 John himself ran for the Kansas Legislature’s 84th State Representative District seat as a write-in candidate and was elected by a substantial majority in the Republican-dominated district. He was re-elected to six subsequent terms and in the 1957 session of the legislature he became the Kansas House Minority Leader for the Democratic Party, serving in that capacity through three regular sessions, three budget sessions, and one special session of the House. John was an extremely modest man who probably had more friends of both political parties than any representative who has ever served in Osborne County. He was serving his sixth term when he was stricken with a heart attack and died at his home in Osborne on July 17, 1961. John was laid to rest in the Osborne Cemetery.
“John was a wonderful man. He was the finest legislator that Kansas ever had. The people of Kansas will miss him greatly, for he had excellent judgment in legislative matters, and was a man of great integrity.” — George Docking, then governor of Kansas.
Letter to the Editor
Word has just reached me here on the West Coast of the death of Representative John Adams. It was my pleasure to serve in the [Kansas] House of Representatives during his first two terms. Since that time I followed his unselfish role as a devoted public servant with interest.
During fourteen years as a county newspaperman, a participant in state and national politics and lately as a metropolitan newspaperman, it has been my privilege to know some of the biggest names on the public scene. I was able to measure them as men. Unfortunately some of the so-called “big men” of this time failed to measure up to the image they cast on front pages of the nation’s newspapers. Others were much bigger than anyone realized.
John Adams was a big man. He had the deepest sense of principles of any man I’ve known. When Kansas history is written, John Adams should hold a place equal to Arthur Capper, William Allen White, Jerry Simpson, Alf Landon and others whose names are associated with the colorful history of the state.
I think John Adams gave his life to Kansas. Many times he wanted to retire to his Osborne home. But each time he would respond to the demands of his party to continue playing a major role in the shaping of legislation. He worked on when his health demanded that he quit.
Osborne, Kansas, should be proud of John Adams. The state is proud of him. His party is proud of him. I am proud of him. We will all miss him.
Sincerely, Milo W. Sutton, former State Representative from Emporia [Kansas].”
Osborne County Farmer, August 3, 1961.