Last week Howard County lost one of its most well-known and prolific public figures.
Howard County Councilman, businessman, and philanthropist Jeff Stout died early Friday morning at age 55. His sudden and unexpected death, which came as the result of a stroke, left the community reeling as those close to him remembered how Stout dedicated his life to the community.
“Jeff was an inspiration to many, and he was dedicated to his family and profession,” read a release from Stout’s family. “Though words cannot adequately describe the loss we feel today as a family, we find peace in the enormous legacy that Jeff leaves behind. We will honor his legacy with every passing day.”
In reviewing Stout’s deeds and accomplishments, it is truly difficult to encapsulate the scale of his work within Russiaville, Kokomo, and Howard County as a whole.
Stout was perhaps best known as the owner of Stout Funeral Homes and Crematory. The family-owned business was founded in 1890 near Russiaville by Stout’s great-great-grandfather. In 1977, at 12 years old, Stout began working with the business under the tutelage of his grandfather, Kennard Stout. After Stout graduated from Indiana College of Mortuary Science in 1986, he went on to partner with Kennard and eventually purchased the business in its entirety. After the death of Kennard in 2002, Stout partnered with a multitude of locally-owned funeral homes.
Those close to him described Stout’s manner within the business, often dealing with families at some of their most vulnerable times, as compassionate and attentive.
“His vocation fit beautifully into remembering our roots since funerals compel us to worship our creator, to revel in the magnificent gift of life, and to thank Him in good times and bad. He loved seeing people gather to remember, to celebrate, to honor, and to worship,” said Marty Stout, Stout’s brother. “That is his legacy, a legacy of bringing people together to heal.”
Beyond the funeral home business, Stout was also highly influential within local politics. At the time of his death, Stout was in the final year of his fifth term as an at-large councilman with the Howard County Council. He had announced a reelection bid early this year, seeking a sixth term. Notably, Stout served as the top vote-getter in his elections, snagging 29.16 percent of the votes during his last election bid in 2016.
Howard County Council President James Papacek served alongside Stout for many years on the county fiscal body. After Stout’s passing, Papacek said his fellow councilman’s death would leave a sizable hole in the community.
“I’m devastated. The whole community, all of Howard County, has lost what I would call a very gracious man, a man who was a true servant,” said Papacek. “I can’t even really put into words how devastated I am. Personally, in my estimation, he was a great humanitarian. Many times I saw how many times he has reached out to help people, probably a lot more than anybody in this community knows. From a political standpoint, he was an excellent councilman. He studied the issues. I don’t know how he did everything he did, but he always came to the council meetings prepared. He studied any issue that came up and always had good input on discussions and always looked after the county employees. He was very concerned about their well being.”
Projects Stout’s support helped make a reality through his role on the council were numerous, but in particular local figures pointed to Stout’s public support of the new YMCA’s construction in 2016 as well as Nickle Plate Trail extensions as shining examples of his work.
Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman reflected on Stout’s legacy and said the councilman “truly was and always will be one of the greats. He was filled with love, compassion, and generosity. He gave back like no other with his time, talent, and treasure.
“Jeff was an incredible leader on the county council, oftentimes, providing leadership on large projects that will have an everlasting impact on our community,” said Wyman. “To me it’s one of the greatest legacies that he leaves is how he helped make our community such a great place to live, work, and raise our families. Jeff’s passing is an incredible loss for our community, but I’m incredibly thankful for all the years we did have with him.”
Prior to serving on the council, Stout also served as the Howard County Coroner. Additionally, he previously worked as a Russiaville firefighter and ambulance attendant. As his family noted, “He created a legacy of serving people during their most difficult times in their life.”
Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore also reflected on Stout’s death.
In a statement, he said, “The city of Kokomo joins those in the Howard County family in mourning the loss of this great pillar of our community. Jeff has created a legacy of love and public service that will continue to touch the lives of so many for years to come. Well done, good and faithful servant. May God rest his soul and grant peace and comfort to his family.”
In 2012, construction was completed in Russiaville on the Jeff Stout Community Center. Stout helped finance the construction of the facility, which gave residents of Russiaville a place to gather for events and special occasions. In more recent years, Stout gained further notoriety after taking the reins of a favorite local business in early 2019 when he and his wife Tami purchased Cone Palace.
In Stout’s family’s statement, they noted, “Jeff’s sons, Jeff Jr. and Jake, his brother Marty, Matt Grecu, Bill Shirley, and dedicated staff will continue the strong compassion and traditions of Stout Funeral Homes and Crematory.”
Funeral services celebrating will be held at 12 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 14, at Crossroads Community Church, 4254 S. 00 EW, with Pastor Jeff Harlow officiating. Burial will follow in the Stout family plot in New London Cemetery, with Pastor Steve Branstutter officiating. Stout’s friends are invited to visit with the family from 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the church.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Jeffrey A. Stout Scholarship fund for Mortuary Science Students, c/o The Community Foundation of Howard County, 215 W. Sycamore Street, Kokomo, Indiana 46901 or to Tyler’s Triumph, P.O. Box 218, Russiaville, Indiana 46979.