Mike Ley and Todd Fiandt didn’t hang out together in their years at East Noble High School in Kendallville.
The two 1975 graduates have plenty in common to talk about now.
Ley won election as Auburn’s next mayor on Nov. 5 and will take office Jan. 1.
Fiandt will continue in his second term as mayor of Garrett after winning re-election earlier this month.
They aren’t even the first mayors from their graduating class. Classmate Jeff Smith served as mayor of Kendallville in the 1990s.
“How in the heck do three guys out of the class of ’75 end up being mayors in adjoining communities?” Ley asked last week, when he met with Fiandt to reminisce about high school days.
Both men said none of their classmates could have predicted their paths to city halls.
“They might have said a contractor or construction business … or a farmer,” Ley said about his potential occupations. They would have been correct, because for the past 15 years, Ley has owned and operated Signature Construction in Auburn.
Raised on a farm near Avilla, Ley took high school classes in wood shop, agriculture and welding.
After class, Ley found success running cross country to get in shape for wrestling. He did even better on the mat, winning two sectional wrestling championships at 112 and 119 pounds.
“I had to take 10 pounds off every Monday” to meet his weight limit, Ley said.
“Mike was a hard worker and rose from an average athlete” to become a wrestler who nearly reached the state finals, said his wrestling coach, Oren Skinner, now a retired school superintendent in Angola.
Ley “had a good attitude and was well-liked by his teammates,” Skinner said.
“We had a good group of young people there,” Skinner said about Ley, Fiandt and their classmates. As a former social studies teacher, Skinner added, “I was glad to see they’re taking an interest in their communities.”
Ley found inspiration toward public service from his father, who served four years as a Noble County commissioner in the 1980s, and his mother, who worked in the courthouse and for the sheriff’s office.
Fiandt’s school days gave even fewer clues about his future in government.
“I was pretty boring” in his high school years, Fiandt said.
He worked at the V&A restaurant in downtown Kendallville, he said, because, “If I wanted a car, I had to get it myself.” He played trumpet in the school band for a couple of years and took a course in auto mechanics.
Fiandt enrolled in barber school after graduation and started his lifelong career after completing the one-year training course.
“Forty-three years later, I’m still going.” Fiandt said, although his first few months in Kendallville got off to a rocky start. In November 1976, he followed the advice to join with Garrett barber Leroy DeLong.
“I made a choice to come over here and try it, and it was a perfect fit. It was just unbelievable,” Fiandt said. “People were so friendly in Garrett. My first day, I went down to the Shake Shop to get something to eat. They all knew who I was when I walked in, because Leroy put an ad in the paper.”
Among Fiandt’s regular customers in Garrett was Ley’s father, Victor, who lived on the family farm directly west of Garrett, just across the DeKalb-Noble county line. In a further connection, Mike Ley was born in the former hospital at Garrett, where his grandfather lived and worked as a railroad conductor.
Fiandt said his first thought of running for mayor of Garrett grew out of a chance encounter. A Garrett police officer stopped Fiandt and his cousin while they were speeding out of town to attend an automobile race. As a joke, his cousin told the officer that he had “the mayor” in the passenger seat.
Fiandt made a successful run for mayor later that year, 2015.
In Garrett City Hall, Fiandt said, “We all work as a group. … It’s been working out real well.”
When 20-year Auburn Mayor Norm Yoder announced he was retiring at the end of 2019, Ley decided to become a candidate for the office. Ley had worked in Auburn City Hall from 1986-1999 as the city’s building and planning supervisor, and then-mayor Norman Rohm mentored him in running city government, he said.
Although they weren’t friends in high school, Ley and Fiandt are better acquainted now. In recent years, both men and Ley’s wife, Sara, have worked together on a committee to plan their high school class reunions.
“We have more fun at our reunion committee than we do at the reunion,” Ley said.
Now, the classmate-mayors hope to cooperate in making their cities better.
“That’s something I really look forward to. I don’t see a boundary between us, really,” Ley said.
“I think that’s long gone,” said Fiandt, referring to a history of rivalry between the neighboring cities.
As a start in working together, Ley suggested extending a trail system between Auburn and Garrett.
“There’s no reason you and I can’t get that connected up pretty quickly,” he told Fiandt.
Garrett’s returning mayor should have more time for collaborating with his classmate in the future.
“After the first of the year, I’m going to close the shop. There’s just not enough time,” Fiandt said about his business. “I’m just going to walk away from it after 43 years. Hopefully, I’ll find somebody to take it over, because I don’t want to have a dark storefront.”