Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke strolls up to the front door of WEVV 44News along Carpenter Street, two boxes of Donut Bank doughnuts in his hands.
“It’s my way of an apology,” he says with a laugh and a smile.
Each month on a Monday morning, Winnecke has a standing segment on the WEVV 44News This Morning program. He takes the short time to talk to viewers about upcoming city events and give updates on current projects. However, he unfortunately forgot his scheduled appearance on May 8 at the station. He hoped the doughnut-apology would once again put him in the good graces of the producers at WEVV.
The apology works — morning anchor Tommy Mason takes the doughnuts from the mayor with a big smile and a word of thanks.
“The producers are going to be really happy,” he says as he guides Winnecke into the studio.
A seasoned pro in front of a camera, Winnecke exchanges jokes and calls out “good morning” to the newsroom staff as he puts on his mic. He’s a tad late for the segment — the stop for doughnuts serving as the cause — but doesn’t seemed fazed in the slightest.
In fact, he’s very much in his element.
Five minutes later, he steps off the stage, hands over the mic, and waves goodbye as he makes his way out of the studio. It’s near 7:30 a.m., and his day won’t slow down at all.
“It’s not unusual to start this early,” says the 57-year-old Evansville native. “It’s fairly common.”
As he pulls into the parking lot at the Civic Center, there only are a few cars to greet him. This early in the morning, the city just is waking up. Walking through the entrance, Winnecke makes his way to the front staircase of the building.
“I always go up and down the front stairs because I want to make sure people see me and can talk to me,” he says, climbing the three flights to the Mayor’s Office. “I want people to know I’m accessible.”
The offices are quiet as Winnecke arrives. It’s a rare, quiet moment to prep himself for the upcoming day.
Most residents are familiar with Winnecke’s background. An Evansville native who attended Central High School and graduated from the University of Evansville, he’s no stranger to the political scene in his hometown. But the dream wasn’t always to be in the public eye via local government. A young Winnecke had his sight set a bit higher.
“I wanted to be the second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals,” he says without missing a beat. “When I was a kid, I practiced my autograph because I knew I was going to be a professional baseball player.”
Though his love for the Cardinals has not diminished, the aspiration of playing for them died out as he moved through his school years.
Instead, when Winnecke left the campus of UE, he took with him a degree in communications which led to a 17-year career in news broadcasting with eight of those years as a news director at WEHT-TV News 25. In 1998, he made a fairly large jump in his career — moving from television news to banking.
“It was curiosity more than anything,” explains Winnecke of the switch in professions. “I loved my career in television news. I really enjoyed that business. But I was thinking, ‘What else can I do?’”
The leap of faith wouldn’t be the last — after 13 years, he would leave his position as senior vice president and marketing director for Fifth Third Bank to dive into city government. Though his career path has seen him work in markets including Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, Winnecke truly enjoys living and working in his hometown.
“It’s real exciting to be a part of its growth. It’s fun to talk and run into people I went to high school or college with,” he says. “There’s just a special sense of satisfaction probably few can appreciate.”
Winnecke sits across from Evansville Deputy Mayor Steve Schaefer, feet propped up, as he recaps an event he attended the day before. Schaefer’s office — located through a small conference room and intern area from the mayor’s office — is what Winnecke dubs “The War Room.”
The rapport between the two is strong, for obvious reasons, but both men generally are easy going and have just as many jokes to share as they do business topics. Their talking session lasts around 20 minutes before Winnecke is up out of his chair, heading to the next event. With talking points in hand, he drives toward the West Side, where he will give a few opening remarks before a Four Freedoms Veterans Parade announcement.
Cruising in his car, Winnecke listens to one of four selections — WIKY, ’70s on 7 satellite radio, sports news, or the Broadway Network.
“I love music, and I love theater,” he says. “And I love to sing.”
As Winnecke pulls up to park across the street from the West Branch Library, he takes a moment in the car to once again refresh his memory of his talking points. As his eyes skim over the words, “Razzle Dazzle” from “Chicago The Musical” softly plays in the background.
“Give ‘em the ol’ razzle dazzle. Razzle dazzle ‘em,” Winnecke softly sings under his breath as he finally folds the speech notes and lays them on the car’s console.
After 30 minutes, it’s back to the Civic Center, prepping for a 10 a.m. meeting with the Commission on Homelessness. There are no speeches here for Winnecke to prepare. He sits at the head of the conference room table, surrounded by a room full of county, city, and other organization leaders as they discuss homelessness in the community.
Winnecke intently listens, leaned back in the chair, and after each speaker, he follows up with questions to lead more discussion. One hour passes quickly; it seems a bit difficult to believe it is just after 11 a.m., with so much ground already covered that morning. It’s an aspect of the job Winnecke was aware of when elected, but didn’t fully understand until he was in the position.
“It’s hard to describe the demands of time. We’re probably our own worst enemy in that we agree to do too much,” he says. “It’s also part of the exhilaration of it.”
Winnecke rushes out of his office, umbrella in hand. The luncheon for the Evansville Retired Teachers Association begins at noon at the American Baptist East Church on the East Side of town.
In light traffic, the drive from the Civic Center to the church is 12 minutes. Winnecke has only eight.
Miraculously, he walks through the door of the church’s gym just before noon. The retired Evansville Vanderburgh County School Corporation teachers milling about are none the wiser.
Only a few steps into the building, he is stopped by many former teachers with laughs and warm hugs. They all clearly are proud of Winnecke and are quick to sing his praises.
“I saw him one day cutting bushes down in a creek and thought, ‘That’s a nice political thing to do.’ Then the next day, he’s on Covert Avenue staring at a sinkhole, and I’m thinking, ‘OK, Superman, you don’t have to do it all,’” says Terry Becker, the incoming president of ERTA and Winnecke’s former music teacher, with a laugh and shake of his head.
Ed Cole pushes his way up to the mayor for his own enthusiastic greeting. Cole was Winnecke’s high school journalism teacher, and one the mayor seems very fond of.
“He’s the most visible mayor I’ve ever known,” says Cole with a firm nod of his head. “I’m telling you, he’s everywhere.”
After lunch, it’s time for Winnecke to assume the role of storyteller. Instead of standing behind the podium, he simply takes the mic and begins to stroll through the tables. He shares stories, former teachers call out their own anecdotes, and they all laugh together. It’s a situation Winnecke clearly enjoys being in.
“I am who I am today because of the teachers of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation,” he tells them with sincerity. “Plain and simple.”
The plan was to speak and head back to his office no later than 1:30 p.m., but after regaling the crowd with tales of Ed Cole’s hall passes (Cole later jots down a “hall pass” on a sheet of notebook paper and hands it to Winnecke, which garners a laugh from the mayor — it reads, “Lloyd Winnecke, Hall Pass, Good forever!”), Winnecke stays to talk.
He listens to their concerns and shares as much information as he can. Each person who speaks with him has a smile and, more often than not, there is a lot of laughter.
Winnecke and his wife Carol McClintock have been married for 28 years. Winnecke has one daughter Danielle, who lives in Arizona with her husband Steve and their two children, Holden 9, and Oliver, 5.
Looking about Winnecke’s office, it’s not hard to see his family means a great deal to him. He admits without hesitation he’s the world’s sappiest grandfather.
“A lot of things motivate me, but on a real personal level, all of my personal relationships and friendships motivate me,” says Winnecke. “I’m motivated by my wife and her drive and energy, not just by her profession but what she wants to do for the city. She most definitely is my partner in this effort.”
“We enjoy talking through the business of the day,” says McClintock. “We share ideas of how Evansville can continue to be improved.”
The citizens motivate the mayor as well, bringing to light the needs of the city to his office. While the big development projects throughout the community grab the headlines, some of the most important work is not so glamorous.
“One thing that first impressed me about him was he said he was a mayor for everyone,” says Marianne Hill, Winnecke’s executive assistant. “He truly believes he can make change happen.”
“Lloyd’s greatest asset is his true caring spirit,” adds McClintock. “His ability to relate to people in all walks of life on a personal level is a rare trait.”
The stars correctly were aligned when Winnecke decided to make the jump from banking to mayor of Evansville. His story may have been different if former mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel had decided to run for a third term.
“I have so much respect for him,” says Winnecke. “What we’re able to do today is because of a lot of things he did. I truly believe that.”
But as fate would have it, Weinzapfel did not run, and in July 2011, Winnecke began his campaign for mayor of the city. He already had served in local government since 2000, when he filled a vacated county council seat under then-mayor Russ Lloyd Jr. He also had been elected to the county commission in 2009.
It was a decision that worked in his favor; he was elected into his first term in 2011 and his second in 2015.
“Lloyd diligently has worked to be an effective partner to me as a federal representative,” says Congressman Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-8). Bucshon and Winnecke have known one another for more than a decade.
“Over the years, we’ve become good friends and I’ve gained a great deal of respect for him,” says Bucshon. “So much so that when I decided to run for Congress, Lloyd was one of the first people I contacted.”
In early 2017, Winnecke formally announced he would seek a third term as mayor of the city, which — were he to win — would begin in 2020 and end in 2024.
“I would be 63, and I would hope I’d have some energy left to do something fun,” he says with a smile.
Until then, another election cycle looms on the horizon, but it is not a daunting prospect, which is why Winnecke decided to seek the seat once again.
“It’s still the best job I’ve ever had, and I immensely enjoy it,” he says. “And there are things I want to see done, started, completed, whatever the case may be, and two terms won’t be enough.”
Many have suggested to Winnecke he should consider running for a higher political office at a state level. It’s a flattering thought, he says, but when he mulls over the possibility, it’s not one he’s likely to pursue.
“I think Lloyd will continue to serve in local government,” says McClintock. “There still is much to do in Evansville. I think Lloyd wants to continue to make the city a place for everyone.”
“The fact of the matter is my heart really is here,” adds Winnecke. “My father is here; my wife’s business is here. And I really like this job.”
It’s nearing 5 p.m. — while most of the Civic Center employees are getting ready to head home for the evening, Winnecke prepares for the final part of his day. He is set to make an appearance at a fundraising event for the Dan Scism Scholarship Foundation at Old National Bank.
As he walks into the lobby and is escorted to the elevators by Tina Wells of the scholarship foundation selection committee, Winnecke asks if he’s expected to say anything to those attending.
“You are speaking; you’re giving opening remarks,” she informs him.
Winnecke nods and asks what he is expected to touch on. The two exchange a few topic points as the elevator opens. He steps in, and she keys him up to the eighth floor. As the elevator doors close, Winnecke smiles.
“It’s OK, I’ll come up with something,” he says.
As promised, when it is time for Winnecke to give the opening remarks, he makes an address that seems far from just-prepared. He stays a bit longer than he originally plans, shaking hands and conversing with friends.
Then, he’s on his way to the YWCA Tribute to Achievement dinner at the Evansville Country Club. It’s near 7 p.m. when he walks up the stairs to the event rooms, and it’s the first time all day he seems a bit tired.
Dinner already has begun but as is common in nearly all the events he attends, a line starts to form to greet him. After he snaps a selfie with 96-year-old Katie McLaughlin, who says she’s known him for many years, Winnecke is guided to his seat where his meal has been kept warm for him.
He quickly eats, just before the countdown clock has reached zero and the room erupts into a controlled chaos as dinner guests vie for pieces of cake. A tradition of the tribute dinner is to have donated cakes as centerpieces on each table, allowing those attending to circle the room and try as much cake as they like.
“I’m headed straight for that German chocolate cake,” Winnecke says as he grabs a plate and heads to the other side of the room.
The presentation honoring Nancy Gaunt begins shortly after, and the mayor is one of the last to speak. His voice is quiet and sincere as he reads from a proclamation declaring May 11, 2017, as Nancy Gaunt day in her honor.
The event ends around 8:45 p.m., and the room begins to clear. Winnecke stands with a smile on his face.
“So that’s a day. And I start all over tomorrow again at WIKY at 7 a.m.,” he says.
Though he clearly is tired, the prospect of starting early again the next day doesn’t seem to concern him. It is, after all, a typical day in the life of Evansville’s Mayor Lloyd Winnecke.