Crossroads' Top 10 Most Fascinating People - No. 4: Joe Adams
By BY SONNY LONG - SLONG@VICAD.COM
Nov. 14, 2009 at 5:14 a.m.
Updated Nov. 16, 2009 at 5:16 a.m.
CUERO - Tears streaked down the girl's face. She hugged the puppy tightly in her arms as potential buyers at the Make-A-Wish auction slowly upped the buying price, seemingly stuck in the $600 range.
Auctioneer Joe Adams suddenly stopped the bidding.
Kneeling to look the 8-year-old eye-to-eye, Adams asked her if she wanted that puppy for her own. She answered yes, but told Adams her mother wouldn't let her have animals.
"You let me take care of momma," Adams said. He turned to the auction audience. "Folks, we're here to raise money for a good cause. Let's help this little girl out. Let's get this deal going now."
Adams got the "deal" going. The bidding ended at $2,000 and the little girl took the puppy home, according to Adams' longtime friend William Finney, who retold this story.
"He's a master of that," Finney said. "He told me, 'The way I figure it is that I'll be broken down on the side of the road someday and someone will stop and help me.' That's his philosophy of life. He is that genuine a guy. One of the few people I know who helps people out of the kindness of his heart."
Generosity is just one trait that Adams remains known for. Let's say he stays busier than most.
Adams' auctioneering services during area livestock shows, charitable and church events have become legendary in South Texas. For more than 25 years, he has also shared the booth with his stepfather, Roy "Grandpa" Johnson, during Cuero Gobbler football radio broadcasts.
Adams manages the Friar-Thomas Ranch, oversees the family's gravel and construction business and is a member of the DeWitt County Go-Texan Committee that helps to provide scholarships for local students. Once in a while, he offers Dutch oven cooking demonstrations from a chuck wagon.
Adams embodies rural life. He and his late father, Harold Joseph Adams Sr., started the Poor Boys Buyers Group in 1981. The group pools resources from businesses and individuals and buys projects at area livestock shows.
"There were seven us that started it. We put in $50 apiece a bought a pen of chickens for $350," Adams said. The group grew to 280 members, who each contribute $100.
"We buy student projects that aren't necessarily the grand champion or reserve champion. It keeps the playing field even," Adams said.
The group spent more than $400,000 at the Cuero Livestock Show during the years and provides annual scholarships to local high school graduates who are involved in the stock show, Adams said.
While Adams remains known for his radio broadcasts of Gobblers games, it's his skill with a microphone in the auction ring that garners the most attention.
"I don't know if he is the best auctioneer in the world, but he keeps the crowd involved. His strongest asset is the BS that goes along with it," said Kenneth Schumacher, who has known Adams for more than 30 years. The two attended auctioneering school during the mid-1980s.
Adams admits his auctioneering style is unique.
"A lot of my auctions may have to come with a disclaimer," Adams said, laughing. "I get on the verge of being a little bit ... well, let's just say I have fun with it. I push it just about as far I can, depending on the audience. The key to making money in one of those settings is getting them to laugh. If they are having fun, making fun of me or making fun of themselves, then they are more likely to spend money. You aren't really trying to embarrass anyone. You figure out the ones you can have fun with."
It was an audience of one that led Adams to his career in ranch management. After high school, Adams attended Victoria Junior College and worked part time for family friend J. Carter Thomas.
One Sunday afternoon when he was 19, Adams recalled, he and Thomas returned to town from the ranch in the older man's pickup. Thomas asked Adams about what he would do after the summer ended. Adams said he would transfer to Sam Houston State to continue his schooling.
"I remember clearly to this day," Adams said. "He kind of looked at me funny and said, 'Let me get this straight. You're going to quit a ranch job to go to school to pay someone to teach you how to ranch, and they may not have ever ranched at all? Tell you what. I'll teach you the ranching business and won't charge you a (darn) thing. In fact, I'll give you $110 a week.' I reached out and shook his hand. That was 31 years ago."
He wasn't straddling a horse on the ranch during this visit, but an office chair which he moves with ease. The office walls are covered with photographs, certificates and Cuero Gobblers memorabilia capturing forever some of the events of Adams' life.
During a 45-minute interview, he fielded nine phone calls from three telephones. Conversations included everything from family matters to business talks about the ranch, gravel company and lawn mowing.
"I got people kind of going everywhere this morning," Adams said.
Thomas, Adams' ranching mentor, died in 1986. Adams, who turned 50 in late August, oversees the daily operations at Friar-Thomas Ranch and has since Thomas died. Ranch owner Missi Thomas considers Adams an extended family member.
"I've known him all his life," Thomas said. "My mother changed his britches."
Thomas said Adams and his family - Cindy Adams, his wife of 26 years, two sons and a daughter - often join her family for holidays and other special events. Thomas said that for a man known for talking as an auctioneer and a radio personality, Adams can listen, too.
"He is sympathetic and understanding," she said. "You can tell him your story, and he won't criticize. That's hard to come by. He has a good shoulder."
Adams, bewhiskered and gravel-voiced, credits much of his upbringing to not only his father and J. Carter Thomas, but also to other Cuero relatives. He said he grew up hanging around his grandfather Buck Brantley's gas station and used car lot, as well as at the Doll House, a former local restaurant once owned by an uncle.
"That was definitely a neat time in life," Adams said. "It's amazing what you learn sitting around a gas station and used car lot with a bunch of older men, some of the characters of the day. You probably don't realize it at the time, but you are being molded."
Adams was molded into a versatile person.
"He's a cattle man, but he's equally at home in a board room," Schumacher, the man who attended auctioneer school with Adams, said. "The best thing about Joe is that his word is him."
Adams deflected praise and said he is humbled to be included on a list of "Most Fascinating" people.
"It's definitely an honor," he said. "I've been very lucky over the years and done a lot of interesting things in a lot of interesting places."