In Memory

Rosemary Adam -(English) VIEW PROFILE

Rosemary Adam -(English)

Jun 19, 1933 - Nov 11, 2015

Rosemary Adam: teacher, writer, free spirit

Rosemary Adam, a longtime Claremont resident and former teacher at Claremont High School, died on November 11, 2015. She was 82.

She was born on June 19, 1933 in Bangor, Maine to Louis and Amelia Ferris, the oldest of three children. Rosemary was valedictorian of her junior high school class and was a cheerleader and voted “Most Popular Girl” at John Bapst High School. In a 1971 profile in Claremont High School’s El Espiritu yearbook, Ms. Adam wrote with humor about her auspicious beginnings. “Once, I won a drawing at a dance and my prize was a live goose. My life could only go up from there.”

Ms. Adam fell in love with writing when she was quite young—“I have no choice. It’s innate,” she told the COURIER in 2003—and set her sights on helping young people express themselves through the written word. After attending the University of Maine and Syracuse University, she became a teacher, assigned to 8th and 9th grade English.

Susan Hansen met Ms. Adam when she taught for a semester at her Connecticut high school, providing a breath of fresh air. “It was the middle ‘50s, a time that was drab and conservative. She was neither of these,” Ms. Hansen recalled. “Of course, she respected teacher-student boundaries, but she was friendly and open to our ideas and very generous with her enthusiasm and support.” 

After Ms. Adam married, she took a leave from teaching to raise her three children, Cynthia, Matt and Mark. Later, she returned to the classroom and earned a master’s degree from California State Polytechnic University Pomona. A popular teacher at CHS, she taught American literature and creative writing. Her classes were freewheeling exercises in free-thinking. “She was a rebel, showing Pink Floyd’s The Wall in a class at Claremont High and pretending she didn’t know it was rated R,” her daughter Cynthia Prochaska recalled in her mother’s eulogy.

Several of Ms. Adam’s students went on to become notable writers, including songwriter Ben Harper and John Darnielle, a musician and writer best known for his band The Mountain Goats. Last year, Mr. Darnielle dedicated his debut novel, Wolf in White Van, to three of his early teachers, Rosemary among them.

Leslie Overman, who graduated from CHS in 1986, remembers being impressed by the fact that her teacher had a regular column, “Adam in Print,” which appeared in the COURIER.

“Classes were very fun. We’d get up and we would read things that we had written aloud,” she said. “Rosemary would not only give corrective criticism, she would help inspire us. She was very sexy. She had a deep voice. I had a female crush on her.”

That resonant voice made an impression on peers as well. In an online tribute, Lynn Lary, a math teacher who counted Ms. Adam as a colleague and a friend, expounded on the exoticism of her voice.

“Always one to be mysterious, she never disclosed her ethnicity and she had a voice that she most likely developed to sound sultry, like one of the old-time movie stars,” she wrote. “I always assumed that she was some part Middle-Eastern; she always said that she was, “from Brazil, where the nuts come from.’” 

Ms. Lary was in her 20s and Ms. Adam was close to 60 at the time of their acquaintance, but there was no feeling of the stuffy elder. Occasionally, she would join Ms. Adam on a fishing excursion or attend a dinner party at her house, the evening marked by the smell of wood-smoke from Rosemary’s wood-burning stove. She remembers the older teacher as being “edgy, quirky, provocative and thoughtful.”

Jean Collinsworth, a CHS colleague, most appreciated Ms. Adam’s fiery spirit and openness to new ideas.

“Rosemary championed creativity and free speech all her life, and was writing and creating art up until the end,” she said. “She loved Fitzgerald and Hemingway and cooking and anything avant-garde. She was famous for having a ball of string in her classroom that grew and grew and grew as students added contributions.”

In 1994, Ms. Adam was named CHS Teacher of the Year and was a semi-finalist for California Teacher of the Year. She retired the following year, after more than 22 years with the district.

Rosemary, who studied with venerable Claremont poet Virginia Hamilton Adair and Jean Burden, who was poetry editor for Yankee magazine, wrote prolifically throughout and after her academic career.

Her poems were printed in literary publications such as Pen Women, Fern, California Poetry Quarterly, After Dark, Earthworks, Spectato, Dreamer’s State and California English. She gave poetry readings throughout the state, often in conjunction with the poet Nancy Edwards. The women appeared at local galleries and colleges, as well as further afield. Their presentations at the Yosemite Conference at the Ahwanee Hotel yielded a co-written book, A Poetry Reading at Yosemite. (1984)

In 2003, the COURIER interviewed Ms. Adam as she prepared to present her poetry as part of the Claremont Library Poetry Series. She said that when crafting poems, she drew inspiration from great American writers like Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, as well as from nature. “Nature is everything,” she said. “It’s in my backyard, in my neighborhood, it’s the birds.”

Rosemary is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Cynthia Adam Prochaska and Alan Prochaska); her son and daughter-in-law, Matthew Adam and Kelley Regan; and her son Mark Adam.

She also leaves behind her grandchildren, Chris Adam, Kimberly Adam, Evan Prochaska, Amy Prochaska, Chayce Regan and Charlie Regan. She is also survived by her brothers David Ferris and Mark Ferris.

A memorial for Ms. Adam will be held today, Friday, November 20, at 11 a.m. at the Claremont Women’s Club, 343 W. Twelfth St. in Claremont.

Viewpoint: Rosemary Adam leaves lasting impression
John Darnielle is a noted musician and author best known for his work with the band The Mountain Goats. Mr. Darnielle, who graduated from Claremont High School in 1985, was deeply influenced by his creative writing teacher Rosemary Adam. Upon learning of Ms. Adam’s death, he sent the following tribute to the COURIER.  - November 20, 2015 

 Last night we played to about 500 people in Bristol, England. From the stage I can see people singing along to our songs; during the better-known numbers, I can hear them, too, all joining together to sing things I wrote.

It’s an incredibly rewarding and validating feeling, and it happens night after night—not every night, all tours have their ups and downs—but often enough that I try to make a point to stop and reflect on it at least once a day. It’s a blessing, a huge honor and privilege.

It is no exaggeration to say that none of this would have happened had I not enrolled in Rosemary Adam’s Manuscript Writing for Publication at Claremont High School in 1982. It was a class for juniors and seniors; I was a freshman, so I had to petition to be admitted. “Petitioning” was an unofficial process; all you had to do was make an appointment to see Ms. Adam and tell her about your work. “I want to be a writer,” I told her in her office in the 800 quad—it had been my single ambition since I was about six years old.

She answered very quickly, waving her hand, moving the conversation along: “You are a writer,” is what she said, and it’s hard to tell this story without making it sound more dramatic a moment than it was—because she was saying it to casually but utterly dispel this notion that a writer is something you become, that it’s a condition to which you have to aspire. For Rosemary, if you wrote, then you were a writer: that was the end of the hunt. You’d already arrived at your destination by setting out on the first step of the journey.

This is a very powerful bit of news for a young and, at the time, very bad writer. I thought pretty highly of my work, but it was terrible; its sole virtue was the heat of the desire it reflected, my need to say something that somebody else might take pleasure in hearing, to have the effect on others that the writers I loved were having on me.

By taking my poems and stories seriously—by talking about them as if they merited serious discussion—she forced me to do the same: to always try to make them better; to hunt down their weak spots and make them strong; and to honor each work, great or small, significant or inconsequential, as an expression of myself, and therefore worthy of being honored, of inherent, immediate value—of great inherent value, because in writing we construct and heal and reveal ourselves in ways we seldom can out there in the world beyond the page. 

It would be hard to get a count of the students to whom she imparted this blessing, this great secret: you are a writer. Whether you publish or not. Whether you succeed or not. Whether anyone’s listening or not. You are what you hope to be, because you’re doing the thing you hoped to do. I’m in touch with many of her former students, and many of them remember her class as a place where they were accepted as I was: as already somebody who counted, whose work deserved serious consideration. The effect this has on a young writer is lasting. You get to keep it for your whole life. 

She let me sleep on her couch when I ran away from home. She talked with me for hours in that magnificent, resonant, husky voice I’m sure everyone else is also telling you about, as if I were her equal, which I’m not.

She submitted my stuff to contests, and I got invited to go to read at Literary Cavalcade in New York, which I wasn’t able to do, but just the hint of the possibility kept me going, made me feel like everything was going to be worth the effort. It was one of our proudest moments together; her classes often won all the major regional poetry competitions, but Literary Cavalcade was nationwide and she told us up front, “we never win this one, but we have to keep trying.” I was given honorable mention and felt like a batter who’d driven in the tying run, or at least put the tying run on first. 

I’m 48. I am a deeply imperfect person, but my dream of being a writer whose work reaches people and speaks to them in some way is something I can say I have realized. I owe my success largely to many of my teachers, and to my mother and father, who believed in me. But there is no single figure in my writing life who looms larger than Rosemary Adam. She made sure that I believed in the value of my gifts, as meager as they were when she took me under her wing.

The world is inestimably poorer without her in it, but I have faith that the spark she lit inside many of us will be carried forward for many years to come, and that we will pass it along. 

—John Darnielle



Rosemary Adam: The world inside the word, by Heather Altfeld, CHS class of 1988~ Claremont Courier - December 4, 2015  
I have a box of photographs from 1987, my junior year at Claremont High School, shot with the Pentax K-1000 I bought for my photography class. A group of these photos were taken in Rosemary Adam’s classroom and were developed in the CHS darkroom.

The beautiful chaos of her room is evident: the assignment on the board for Creative Writing (“When I was a child…”);  posters of Ray Bradbury who she took me to meet at a small bookstore that no longer exists in South Pomona (the word on the street was that they had dated briefly); a photograph of her at the podium, reading an ode to her daughter Cindy; shelves and shelves of books and, in the center of the room, an unkempt pile of poetry.

One of her most wonderful weekly activities was to have us anonymously submit our poems in the pile. She, too, submitted a poem for the week, and she ran a little game, including the unmarked and lesser-known verse of a famous poet.

We were to each take a small handful of these works and subject them to our emerging review skills. Students would remark, “Learn some grammar,” on a poem by e.e. cummings or add such thoughtful observations as “Who are these people?” on Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool.” We were both laughed at and revered in a spirit of camaraderie after the authors were revealed at the end of class. But we were writers, all of us. It taught me how important a community of writers really is.  

Rosemary Adam, or Madame Adam as she liked to be called, was one of the many teachers at Claremont High whose class was not just a period in the day, but an experience. Among the things I remember most about her teaching was her deeply-held view on the importance of creativity and the imagination. Not as codified, corporatized educational jargon for an amorphous ideal, but as the way to live, breathe and write. She believed in the power of the word to navigate the world, and it edified what I had known about myself since I was five, that I was meant to be a writer.

Ms. Adam encouraged (read: shoved) me to take my first poem—a satirical anti-development piece on North Claremont inspired in part by Dottie Shamah’s class reading of Thoreau’s Walden—to Charles Chase, who found it both amusing and amenable to the mission of Folk Music Center and posted it on the Poet’s Post outside the store.

She continued to support my writing endeavors long after high school, encouraging me to submit poems and stories for national publication. I last saw her about a decade ago, when I took one of my daughters, an emerging poet, to meet her. She was still who I remembered her to be—bossy, breathy and beautiful.

The death of Rosemary Adam represents something much greater than the loss of my first poetry teacher, and more significant than our loss of her as a community member. Teachers like her, and Dottie Shamah, Jack Knapp, Waldemar Vaskis, Johanna Grey, Ann Copple, Penny Herman, Bob Shamah and Marilyn Penn (to name a few) are indeed a dying breed. They represent a generation of teachers who, unhindered by standardization and the terror of lawsuits from parents for the egregious offence of saying something, anything, wrong, believed deeply in freedom of thought and action and taught us accordingly.

These teachers worked in a nearly-pre-Proposition 13, pre-standardization era that allowed for true diversity of mind and curriculum. Ask a student who attended Claremont High School in the 1970s through the late 1980s to describe their experiences, and you will be treated to an hour’s worth of reminisces about an expansive education, where the memorization of “Thanatopsis” or a week-long discussion of Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem were only a part of the genuinely human interactions required of one another. 

We learned to be citizens of our classrooms, and thus, of the world. We were respected and revered, not out of fear of parental complaints or administrative dictation, but out of love.

A cohort of teachers who comprised the faculty during that era founded the legacy course Family of Man—a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, multi-faceted approach not only to learning, but to living. Family of Man was built on a harmony of text, conversation, engagement and games, with a deep emphasis on philosophy, reading, and writing. A great deal of our learning at that time was founded on play. 

During my years at CHS, it was possible to take as many as 35 different English classes, from Short Story and Poetry to Advanced Composition and Advanced Creative Writing, from Fantasy and Sci-Fi literature to Biblical Liturgy to Drama, from Newspaper Writing to Literary Publication. It was nearly impossible, therefore, to not enjoy reading and writing with such an array of interesting choices taught by faculty who were truly invested and engaged in our ideas and our voices.

By the early 1990s when I went back to CHS as a TA for Dottie Shamah’s classes, the selection had been narrowed to English 9, English 10, English 11 and English 12, with a handful of AP courses for the “golden” students. Advanced Creative Writing, a formative course for so many of us, no longer existed.

The Claremont High teachers of my day knew what our system has forgotten—that literature teaches us how to live, and how to live with each other. We were more tolerated and commended for our differences and our uniquenesses at CHS than I have ever been in my life, even at the university level. We talk a lot about diversity these days, which represents our desired actions toward expression with respect to gender and race. But we speak very little of intellectual diversity, artistic diversity or freedom in our classrooms.

 We now ask little of young people in terms of divergent thought. We expose them to limited, finite amounts of literature. We standardize what teachers can and cannot say about this literature and then, as a society, we expect diversity to live alongside this confinement.

I would argue that our classrooms, the place where thinking ought to be most encouraged, are some of the least free and most homogenized places in the nation. Teachers are often the most chained, not only to standards but to a confining artifice of education as a container rather than a window.

Approximately 85 percent of current Common Core instruction is required to be “information-based” reading for the 12 years our students spend in the system, leaving little room for literature or creative writing, which are key to understanding how to live. In her fortitude, Ms. Adam would likely not have bowed to this trend. I imagine that were she in her teaching infancy now, the strength of her beliefs about the significance of literature, writing and free speech in the classroom would spin a few administrators on their heads.

Like economics and biology, education is rife with a notion of progress and evolution, as though the improvements proposed year after year are the fleeting mutations moving us toward the beautiful democracy idealized by philosophers such as John Dewey. It is hard to gauge the exact successes that have come about since Rosemary’s reign with respect to education. Most are likely in the realm of STEM education.

But when I ask my university students, who arrive in their freshman year bored and jaded by their high school experiences, to describe what their education in high school looked like, and then, as a thought experiment, what it should look like, the answers reveal a sad lack of scope. They wish for coveted minutae:?pencils, lockers, more sports equipment—material essences. Some students will note that they wish their teachers had been more passionate. But I find it deeply troubling that the experience of learning to be human, of learning to create, of learning as pleasure, are not among their wishes. They do not, in other words, know what they are missing. Neither do many of their teachers who came up through the grim system themselves, without their own Rosemary Adam to guide them.

There is no YouTube video of Family of Man or of Rosemary reading poems to our class while we lay on our desks, eyes closed, so we could hear the rhythms before we even saw the words. There is no footage of Claremont High’s “America and the World” class trial of the dropping on the bomb on Hiroshima—a semester-long, rigorous multi-subject research and writing excursion that made pacifists of even the most rugged class conservatives.

Once lost, some things cannot wholly be replaced or retrieved or re-enacted with exactitude. We can chronicle them, write about them and long for them, but the image of an experience, no matter how artfully rendered, is not the same as the actual experience. 

The beautiful Rosemary influenced me so greatly that I actually became a poet and a teacher, although I feel merely a shadow of who she was. I have attempted to fashion my teaching persona in her image: brash, funny, warm. I learned more about how to teach from my faculty at CHS than I did in graduate school by a long shot.

I always imagined giving back to public high school in the many ways she and the others at CHS did. But my fight will be have to quieter. I cannot stomach the grind of overfilled classrooms and the cuts to English courses and the idea that some texts are too inflammatory for the tender ears of the young.

Rosemary, and the others of her era, believed in us. They fortified us. They changed our lives. They sent us forth to rock the world with poems and art and storms of song. They made us see who we really could become. 




El Espiritu - 1976


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11/13/15 07:01 PM #1    

Merritt Humphrey (Verrill) (1981)

Ah, shit.  Rosemary has left us,  She was the most amazing woman/teacher/friend.  I hope she and my Mom connect in the afterlife.  Loved her so much . ..


11/14/15 11:12 AM #2    

Ms. Lynn Lary -(Math)

For some reason, and I cannot remember why, I used to go fishing with my teacher colleague Rosemary Adam. 

Today I learned that she passed away this past Wednesday. I've had this picture of her in my garage for all these years from one of our fishing trips. 

I met her at the first school in which I taught. She was one of the language arts teachers that I used to hang out with outside of school. Me, a young 20-something teacher, her, close to 60. She was edgy and liked to push the limits and I think she took quite a bit of joy in conversations that shocked me. Especially wonderful were the dinners our group had - I vividly remember the smell of her wood burning fireplace - and the time we spent at Annielaural LeFaye's cabin at Whitney Portal. 

Always one to be mysterious, she never disclosed her ethnicity and she had a voice that she most likely developed to sound sultry, like one of the old time movie stars. I always assumed that she was some part middle eastern; she always said that she was, "from Brazil, where the nuts come from." 

Quirky, provocative, thoughtful. My friend Rosemary Adam -- I will always remember her as "Linda Freeway."

11/15/15 02:45 PM #3    

Jean Martha Bayne (Collinsworth) (1966)

Dear Rosemary, you were one of the most creative people I'll ever know---you never stopped producing art and poetry!  You were always open to discuss anything, particularly cultural, and your interests were so broad that it was always a joy to talk with you.  You defended free speech and championed the student voice.  A little quirky, bizarre, radiant, over-the-top, curious, experimental . . .you were a joy to know!

11/18/15 09:21 PM #4    

Waldemar V. "Bill" Vaskis

Ah Rosemary--you will be missed forever. I never had you, but teaching next door in 718 for so many years the kids I also had sung your praises to the heavens. You were a master teacher and they loved you dearly. I wonder how they ever got that humungous ball of string out your door when you retired? It grew and grew to such enormous proportions it would never have fit the doorframe.

I have also wondered what you would have done the day your substitute missed the kids smoking that joint in your room. I know you would have spotted it for sure. As I heard it from someone who was there, when the office delivered a message for someone who had just taken a hit that was being passed around  the sub just handed it to that person who had her lungs full of smoke. Then she turned and busrt it out in laughter returning to her seat. It must have been a riot. I know you would have handled it well. Love forever.

Bill Vaskis

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