Retirement not on the horizon for service-minded Snowden

Gene Snowden takes a break from work at his office, located within Real Living Ness Bros. Real Estate & Auction Co., 519 N. Jefferson St., Huntington. Still going strong at 87, Snowden says he has no plans to retire.
Gene Snowden takes a break from work at his office, located within Real Living Ness Bros. Real Estate & Auction Co., 519 N. Jefferson St., Huntington. Still going strong at 87, Snowden says he has no plans to retire. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published June 29, 2015.

At 87, Gene Snowden has no plans to retire. One of Huntington’s most recognizable residents, the lifelong public servant is still making contacts as a fund-raiser for several area charities, and keeping his thumb on the pulse of the community.

And his efforts are still being recognized. About two months ago, Snowden was honored by the state Republican Party as the Outstanding Republican in Huntington County, presented with a coveted green jacket for his commitment to the party. And just a month ago he received the Generational Leadership Award from the Northeast Indiana District of the Church of the Nazarene for serving 22 years on its advisory board. In 1989 the college he attended in his youth, Olivet University, bestowed on Snowden the Honorary Doctor of Law degree.

His other civic interests include serving on the board of Huntington University, where he was instrumental in getting the lake built on the college campus, which is named in part for him.

In addition, Snowden has been involved in the Police Athletic League, the Salvation Army, Huntington County Historical Society, the Boy Scouts, Huntington County Leadership, Boys & Girls Club, Historic Forks of the Wabash, Pathfinder Services, United Way, Huntington County Chamber of Commerce and Christian Literature for Africa. He also founded the Huntington Optimist Club in 1960 and was its first president.

“See, I started out when I was 2,” Snowden jokes.

It was more like age 27, when Indiana Sen. Galen Colclesser encouraged him to step up to the plate on a larger scale.

“He was teaching at Huntington University, and he wanted to know if I would run for House of Representatives,” Snowden recalls. “They had a Democrat in there and nobody defeated him, so he wanted to know if I’d do it … I talked to my family and they said, ‘Do it.’ So I did. And that’s how it all started.
“I would never have gotten involved if he hadn’t stopped and asked me that.”

Snowden has worked 42 years in insurance and 16 in the real estate business. But he began his political career in 1960, when he was elected to Huntington County Council. In 1962 he was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives, serving until 1964. He then replaced the retiring Colclesser in the Indiana Senate, serving 20 years, from 1964 to 1983.

After he left the Senate, Snowden was appointed by Gov. Bob Orr to head up the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, where he served four years and three months, from 1983 to 1988. He was elected Huntington County auditor and served from 1988 to 1992, then served as Huntington’s mayor from 1992 to 1996.

He enjoyed the political arena, he says, but of all his political hats, it was mayor that Snowden enjoyed most wearing.

“When someone would call me and they had a problem and I took care of it, they would call back and thank me,” he says.

One of the accomplishments that come freshest to his mind is the bill he carried in the Indiana Senate that allows taxpayers to take a deduction off their taxes for donations to universities.

“It gave colleges and universities a real boost in the state of Indiana,” he says.

Among many accolades bestowed over his lifetime, Snowden was awarded the coveted Chief of the Flint Springs Tribe title in 2003, recognizing his efforts in the Huntington community. A state highway, Ind.-224 between Huntington and Interstate 69, is known as the “Gene Snowden Highway.”

His contemporaries, such as attorney Ted Bendall, who served as city attorney under Snowden’s mayoral administration, say his devotion to the people of Huntington and Huntington County always took priority.

“I think most of his life he has gone out of his way to help people that he believed deserved help, and weren’t able to get things done themselves that needed to be done and would make their lives better,” Bendall says. “Time and time again I saw him drop what he was doing and help somebody who didn’t have many other options.

“He’s done that not just as mayor. I’ve known him more than 50 years, and he’s done it all his life.”

On the other hand, Bendall adds the caveat that one of Snowden’s shortcomings was doing that exact thing, of putting aside projects to help someone.

“But if you wanted to tell Gene a story about something you thought needed to be different, or you needed help with, you would have his undivided attention,” Bendall adds. “If he saw it as some way he could help, he would do it right then. Cumulatively, over the years, I think Huntington and the people of Huntington are materially better off.”

And if he hasn’t done enough interesting things with his life, Snowden could always fall back on his other occupation — that of amateur standup comedian.

He’s well-known for his corny jokes. The erstwhile comic got a favorable response from the audience at last year’s Vaudeville at the Forks show during the Heritage Days festival. It seems he’s never without a joke at the ready.

“Did you hear about the couple that married for five months, and she said, ‘Honey, where’s your wedding ring?’ He said, ‘It cut off my circulation.’ She said, ‘That’s exactly what it’s supposed to do!’” Snowden says.

He says he doesn’t know what the word “retire” means. There are no plans to hang anything up in the near future.

“I’ve never ever had a desire to retire,” he says. “I just love doing what I’m doing. And you get a lot of benefits from it.”

But whatever he puts his hand to do, it is always a class act, says Huntington County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Steve Kimmel. He says Snowden has been instrumental in bringing money from the state in to the Huntington community and has had much to do with the county’s growth and economic development as a result.

“I just have the utmost respect for Gene Snowden. I just don’t think there is anybody else in Huntington County that loves Huntington more than Gene,” Kimmel says. “He’s been a chamber ambassador for years, and whenever I need somebody to help me he is always right there, ready to help.”

Snowden and his bride, Carol, will be married 66 years in August. They have four daughters, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

“I always tell them that that’s from my wife’s first marriage,” he says, twinkle firmly in his eye.

Snowden says he simply wants to be thought of as a public servant.

“That sums it up,” he said.

However, he does have a bit of advice for any young newcomers interesting in entering politics.

“If they don’t like they way government is being run, then they should step into the arena,” he says. “That’s one reason why I did it, because I didn’t appreciate the way some of the stuff was being handled. And so, if they don’t like the way it’s being run, get in the mix and make a difference.”