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20 years and still piping: Lyon community celebrates Kenton Adler’s impact on students’ lives, ScotsFest, more

When the Lyon community thinks of ScotsFest, one of the first images that comes to mind is Kenton Adler playing bagpipes in a kilt.

Adler has been playing with the Lyon College Pipe Band for 20 years and has worked in various departments on campus for over two decades, impacting numerous staff, faculty, and students. 

As well-known as his hairstyle and bagpipes skills are, he is most remembered for his mentorship and positivity.

Before Avens Ridgeway, ’14, even arrived on campus as a transfer student, Adler was reaching out to her and making her feel like she “already had a family-oriented support system despite how far [she] was going to be from home.”

Ridgeway has since watched him do the same thing for incoming students joining the Scottish Heritage program. His efforts to make students feel welcome don’t end when they arrive on campus either.

“He and his wife, Nancy, truly go above and beyond in helping students adjust and stay engaged during their time at Lyon College,” Ridgeway said. 

She continued, “Students can’t help but feel connected to the Lyon family after gaining a life-long friend and mentor in Kenton.”

Daniel Armstrong, ’20, said Adler helped him feel at home at Lyon College.

“I was a pretty quiet kid as a freshman, but he always did his best to pull me out of my shell,” he said. “Kenton also serves as an advisor to the Lyon College chapter of ZBT, and I think he is the best advisor we could have asked for.”

He believes Adler is an integral part of the Lyon community.

“Everybody knows him, and he knows everybody!”

When Jared Malone, ’15, first started piping at age 14, he would often run into Adler at solo piping contests. 

“No matter how terrible I sounded, which I did at the time,” Malone said, laughing, “Kenton was always sure to lift me up and encourage my playing.”

He continued, “If anyone had something positive to say about a beginner piper, it was definitely Kenton.”

Executive Director of Advancement Gina Garrett, ’93, considers it a great pleasure to have counted Adler as a colleague and friend for over 20 years.

“He is a resilient, Renaissance man, and his varied interests make him an intriguing conversationalist, a treasured skill in development,” she said.

Garrett continued, “Working with him is never boring! A natural born storyteller and performer, Kenton shines in the spotlight as one of our college's most beloved ambassadors of the Pipe Band.”

The qualities she admires most about Adler, however, are his humility and good humor. These traits make him a terrific mentor, she said, because he shares his considerable knowledge and talents with others easily and is always quick to lend a helping hand.

“He has a gift for putting people at ease and making them feel welcome,” Garrett said, “but I've also always appreciated his willingness to step in and step up as an advocate for others in this community.”

Director of the Pipe Band Jimmy Bell has been working with Adler for 18 years. They were friends before Bell first came to Lyon in 2003 and have since become best friends after working together for almost two decades and traveling “many, many thousands of miles together.”

“The only thing that really bothers me is that his two pigtails are not the same length,” Bell said, laughing. “A minor thing really, but it should be pointed out.”

Cody Wagnon, ’11, countered that those same “pigtails” have “brought many pipers comfort during many stressful contests.”

Bell and Adler have enjoyed watching student pipers progress not just as band members, but as people. Lyon attracts some of the best and brightest students around, Bell said, and they get even better while on campus and after they leave.

“They make a difference wherever they choose to go,” he said. “Being even a small part of that is kind of a cool thing.”

Adler has enjoyed working and traveling with Bell as well.

“It’s a drag. A well-known drag,” he said. “Not really. Jimmy and I have traveled literally thousands of miles together, eaten a lot of meals together, made a lot of music, taught a lot to one another.”

Adler continued, “He’s my closest friend, outside of my wife, Nancy. He always has my back, and I have his.”

He and Bell have had the pleasure of working with “dozens and dozens of talented pipers, drummers, and dancers” who came to Lyon to take part in the Scottish Heritage program and left as college graduates with a first-class liberal arts education.

Adler’s favorite part has been getting to know students as individuals and as bandmates. Watching them grow into successful human beings as well as outstanding musicians and performers has been a gift, he said.

While the Pipe Band is a competitive band, he and Bell are much more focused on performing these days. They have realized the tremendous power the Lyon College Pipe Band has as a “public relations machine.”

“The program here has always been strong, but I think it’s stronger since Jimmy came on board because we recognize that aspect and play to it more,” Adler said.

He continued, “He and I make a good team. We both have our ideas, and share them, and don't get bent out of shape if the other doesn't agree completely.”

Adler joked that he is also there to soften the blow when Bell “has to serve someone their lunch because they weren’t prepared in some way.”

“He and Jimmy Bell elevated the caliber and image of the Pipe Band,” Garrett said. 

They worked closely to develop the Arkansas Scottish Festival into one of the largest festivals of any kind in Arkansas.

“As a volunteer, Kenton has tirelessly devoted his time to the Pipe Band,” Garrett said, “mentoring students and teaching them to be not only excellent musicians, but also loyal ambassadors for this college in the community.”

Armstrong said Adler and Bell are among the best instructors he has ever had.

“I hope many more pipers get the opportunity to learn from them.”

Ridgeway said Adler has helped her in countless ways.

“I think the most important way is his innate talent for caring about others,” she said. “He is one of the most selfless people I have ever met.”

He has inspired her to be a better friend and mentor to those in her life.

“For someone like me who gets tied up in the daily hustle of life, Kenton has been a great silent leader and reminder for me personally to take the time to be there for others and show them you care.”

Malone said Adler has always been an involved individual, putting countless hours into the Pipe Band and encouraging students in both piping and academics.

“Kenton has always been there to lead the band when Jimmy is away, and he has been more than happy to tutor beginning pipers.” 

Malone concluded, “Kenton truly gets joy from watching others succeed, and that’s one thing that makes him such a great person and a great friend.”

See Kenton Adler and the Lyon College Pipe Band for yourself at this year’s Scotsfest!