by Caitlin Huston
Four years ago, Kay Weatherwax anticipated the agenda of a breakfast meeting and made her husband, Tom, promise that he would not take leadership of the Cass County Republican Party.
At it turned out, though, it was Kay, not Tom, who was offered the position, and the pair stepped up as chair and vice chair of the county party. Many say they have revolutionized the party in their four-year tenure. As they prepare to leave their positions in March, the Weatherwaxes are looking to step back from almost 30 years in the political arena.
Before he became a state representative, Tom said he did not view himself as a political person. So when Tom, who was working at The Andersons and served on community boards, was asked to be a state representative, he said it came as a bit of a shock.
“I was flabbergasted, flattered,” Tom said.
He said he accepted the position to give back to the community, and he accepted yet another position when he was asked to become a state senator.
“I loved it,” Tom said. “I could serve more.”
After serving as senator from 1988 to 2008 and picking up a national honor of state legislator of the year in 1995, Tom prepared himself to officially retire along with his wife Kay, who had worked as a paralegal at Miller, Tolbert and Muehlhausen.
At the time of their retirement, Kay thought the county Republican Party would call on Tom to step back into politics and lead the party. Instead, her name was called.
“They want me because they knew they’d have you in that team,” she said she thought at the time.
“They knew you were a hard worker,” Tom countered.
Tom said he and Kay accepted their positions only because they felt they needed to give back to the community that had helped to elect Tom.
“We really wanted to give back,” he said.
The pair started their terms with the objective to shake up leadership in the party.
“The main goal was really to get younger people involved,” Kay said.
Kay said she started with the precinct chairs, who go door-to-door to campaign for candidates and make sure residents are registered to vote.
“They are the grassroots,” Kay said.
Meanwhile, the pair also worked to get the finances of the party in order, so that the party would be able to give money to candidates in the tough races and still have some left over.
City Councilman Bob Bishop praised their leadership.
“They’ve just been incredible,” he said.
When it was time to fill the open positions for the 2012 election, Kay said, they looked for people who had strong community involvement, but hadn’t necessarily been in politics before.
“A lot of the candidates we’ve picked are new,” Tom said.
With Republicans winning all but two elections on the county ballot, Tom called the election “a huge success.”
“I think the future has never been brighter,” he said.
But once the officials take office, Tom said, he and Kay do not try to influence their policies in any way.
“I think we had a great deal of involvement in getting them elected, but we don’t use any of our influence on them after they’re elected,” Tom said.
After the party names a new chair and vice chair, the pair will step down in March. Kay said she is ready to travel and visit their six children and 16 grandchildren.
“I feel this definitely is our end,” Kay said.
But Tom, who acknowledged that he and his wife were “failing at their retirement,” said he was also ready to step away a bit from politics and retire as vice chair.
“We’ve played this game for 30 years,” he said.
He said he’ll also step down as vice chair of the Grissom Community Council and as president of the Hoosier Heartland Industrial Corridor.
He admits, though, that he’ll still be keeping an eye on what’s going on.
Milt Cole, owner of Cole Hardwood in Logansport, said he had known Tom Weatherwax for 45 years and that he believed the pair had helped politics in the county as well as the state.
“They’ve made a great contribution to Cass County,” Cole said.
Bishop, who says he looks up to the Weatherwaxes, said the party would have a hard time picking their replacements.
“In some ways, I hate to lose them because they’ve been huge in resurrecting the Republican Party here in Cass County,” Bishop said.
Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.