Modern-day Renaissance man finds niche at Lyon College

What do bagpipes, a 1946 Cessna 140 and formula race cars have in common? The answer is Kenton Adler, Lyon College’s prospect research associate.

Adler’s winding — and at times almost unbelievable — path through life has led him to be a true jack-of-all-trades. An Arkansas native, Adler was born in Camden, where he lived until he moved with his family to Aurora, Colorado, in 1965. A natural with the written word, Adler began writing plays and presenting them to his classmates when he was in the sixth grade and was also editor of the school’s first student newspaper. In junior high school, he began to learn how to play guitar from a book titled Learn to Play Like The Monkees and kick-started a lifelong love of playing music.

Adler joined the Navy in 1976 and attended Navy “A” School in Lakehurst, New Jersey, where the Hindenburg disaster occurred in 1936.

“My first class was in the giant dirigible hangar they had built for her,” Adler said.

While in the Navy, Adler trained in meteorology and was stationed as a surface observer in Memphis.

“I took hourly observations of cloud cover, temperature and dew point, winds, visibility and good stuff like that to keep pilots out of trouble,” he said.

Adler’s stint in the military would take him to the Indian Ocean, where he spent a year on a small island called Diego Garcia. While there, he received a meritorious advancement and became a petty officer second class. He returned to the States a week before the Iranian hostage crisis and was transferred to the USS Enterprise.

“I always caught flack about that,” he said. “I once spent four hours at attention or parade rest during a change-of-command ceremony on that ship.”

Adler left the Navy in 1980 and returned to Colorado, where he took a job with his father’s printing company, United Printing Corp. Adler attended Metropolitan State College of Denver, where he had a double major in psychology and art. Throughout the ’80s, he played in a band called The Mechanics.

“I could name off about 300 awesome venues we got to play,” he said. One in particular was a party for the 30th anniversary of the Ford Thunderbird.

“It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and they closed off the street and parked all these classic T-Birds up and down the street,” Adler said.

While in Denver, he also attended a three-day intensive race-car school, where he learned basic racing maneuvers driving modified Ford Mustangs. On the final day of class, Adler said, the classmates drove formula cars and raced against each other. After that, However, he never raced on a track again.

“Although I probably should have because I was pretty good at it,” he said, “but then I owned a 1966 red Corvette Roadster, so everywhere I went I was racing.”

Adler also learned to fly at Centennial Airport in Denver.

“My dad flew, and my brother flew, so it was kind of a family tradition,” Adler said.

His father gave him his 1946 Cessna 140 in 2001, which Adler kept until 2010.

After his brother died in 1992, Adler moved back to Arkansas. He opened a vintage guitar shop in Fayetteville called Cadillac Ranch Music and studied history at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He played in an acoustic band called Mimosa, then a rock band called Big Mean Turtle. He took a job in computing services at the university in 1995. That’s when he began to learn to play bagpipes as well. He played with the Ozark Highlanders and eventually became pipe major for the band. He drummed for the group while he was learning to pipe. He participated in his first piping competition in 1996 at the Arkansas Scottish Festival at Lyon College.

“That’s how I got here (Lyon). I mean, who wouldn’t want to work where you can play in a pipe band? That was my entire social life when I first moved here. I didn’t know anyone here or have any friends. My life was work and the pipe band,” Adler said.

He became Lyon’s instructional technologist in 1998 and became more dedicated to developing his piping skills, practicing for hours every day. Adler worked with the IT department for 14 years before moving into his current position as prospect research associate in Institutional Advancement at Lyon. He left Lyon’s pipe band for a few years in 2001 and returned when current pipe major James Bell took the lead in the band.

Adler was invited to be a playing instructor for the Oklahoma Scottish Pipes and Drums competition band.

“I enjoy playing with those guys and helping them get better. I wish I were closer to Oklahoma City so I could play with them more often,” he said.

In 2005, Adler met his future wife, Nancy Love, while at a competition in Jackson, Louisiana.

“She was there doing her first competition on the practice chanter. We met but didn’t really get together then. That was four or five months later, when we went back for a competition in Gonzales. She was there, and we started to get to know each other,” he said.

The couple were married at Lyon during the Arkansas Scottish Festival in 2008. Bell wrote a special piping piece titled “Dragonfly Wedding March” just for the couple’s ceremony. Adler said he also played “The Dawning of the Day” during the service at the request of his bride.

Love is an accomplished drummer and bagpiper as well. Adler said she also writes and is working on a master’s degree in occupational therapy. They have two furry children — a 160-pound Irish wolfhound named Cuchulainn (Coushie for short) and an adopted 8-month-old bulldog mix named Pippin, as well as a cat, Gretzky, whom Adler said is the “furry stepchild.” Adler broke his leg in 2009 in an accident while walking Coushie.

“He got his leash tangled around my legs and took off. I spun around, but my leg didn’t,” Adler said.

Adler’s gift for storytelling grew from his sixth-grade plays into full-fledged novels. In 2011, TigerEye Publications published his fantasy novel The Silver Pipes of Tir nan Og. Adler said one of his favorite reviews called the book “mythologically cosmopolitan.” He is working on a sequel to the book.

Adler recently had a short story published in a collection titled Grokking the Fullness and has published a children’s picture book called An Alligator in Your Yard. He is also a prize-winning poet, having won the Celtic Poetry Contest at the Arkansas Scottish Festival two years in a row, among others. His work has been published in Skive Magazine, an

Australian publication, and he wrote the liner notes for 16 Essential Songs, by Les Paul.

“I got to call him at home and interview him for three hours. What a cool guy he was. I also wrote the liner notes for a greatest-hits album by The Outfield called Big Innings,” Adler said.

Adler also contributed to the liner notes of Roger McGuinn’s Treasures From the Folk Den collection.

“I can’t help it,” Adler said of his writing. “It’s almost like a finger-of-God kind of thing. I’ll be in the shower or something, and these ideas will just hit me. I studied poetry at Lyon with Andrea Hollander and learned to write in several forms from her.”

Adler dabbled in politics in 2010, running for Congress on the Green Party ticket. With a $1,000 campaign budget, Adler said, he had no real aspirations of winning the race. “I did get 5 percent of the vote, which actually shocked quite a few people,” he said. “I’m just fed up with the two-party system. I wanted to give the people another alternative.”

These days, Adler is heavily involved with Lyon’s pipe band, often traveling and recruiting for the group. He was asked to serve as adviser for the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Lyon in 2003.

“You wouldn’t think “fraternity” if you saw me walking down the street, but it’s a great bunch of guys, and I enjoy the interaction with them,” he said.

He compared his position as prospect research associate to that of a private investigator.

“But I don’t use the information I find for nefarious purposes,” he said, joking. “I use Internet tools and databases to collect information to help the college build a mutually beneficial relationship with individuals. I get to keep a foot in technology, and I’ve always liked doing research, which is why I got into history.

“It really is such a great privilege to go out and represent Lyon. The job we do, educating these kids, is the highest calling that you can have. That we get to do it on such a beautiful campus in a great part of the country is just a bonus.”