Alumni Profiles

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Spring 2014

Marching On

Since retiring from the Army in 1993, Clara Adams-Ender (M.S. ’69) has, among other things, launched Caring About People With Enthusiasm, Inc., a management consulting business; started a foundation to help low-income students pay for their education; and mentored young military officers and many others. A sharecropper’s daughter who rose through the ranks to become a brigadier general during her 34-year military career, Adams-Ender is spunky and plainspoken.

“Don’t be driven by what other people think about you because it’s what you think of yourself that really counts,” she drawls. “You know, you can’t go changing every time somebody’s got an opinion or you won’t know who you are or where you’re going.” It’s a sentiment that wasn’t always easy to hold tight to, says Adams-Ender, 74.

sp2014_claraClara Adams-Ender, photograph by Matthew Rakola

Born in 1939 in Willow Springs, North Carolina, Adams-Ender was the fourth of Caretha Bell Sap and Otha Leach’s 10 children. The entire family helped out with the chores on the tobacco farm they ran on 30 acres owned by a local white landowner. There was never enough money, she remembers. But there was always plenty of love and encouragement from both parents, who told each of their children they were somebody. “They said we shouldn’t listen to anyone who told us different,” Adams-Ender says.

Even though her mother and father finished only sixth and third grades, respectively, they were fiercely devoted to education. “They always told us, ‘You need to go to college because if you have a college education, nobody can ever take that away from you,’ ” she recalls. Always a good student, Adams-Ender thought she might become a lawyer. But she did as her father asked and enrolled at nearby North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) to pursue a nursing degree, a common choice for women at that time.

While at NC A&T, Adams-Ender experienced some of her proudest moments when she joined classmates for sit-ins that ended the Greensboro Woolworth’s segregationist policy of denying service to black patrons at the lunch counter. She also relieved her parents of the financial burden of college by enlisting in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, which paid for her last two years at NC A&T in return for three years of service after she graduated in 1961.

That decision marked the start of a career during which Adams-Ender served around the world, earned two master’s degrees, and made history as a woman and an African American. She was the first woman in Army history to be awarded an Expert Medical Field Badge and a promotion to brigadier general in 1987.

The recipient of numerous awards, Adams-Ender was thrilled to make the short trip into Washington, D.C. from her home in Lake Ridge, Virginia, last October to be recognized as a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing, one of nursing’s highest honors. “We say a lot of nice things about people when they’re gone, but being recognized by my peers while I’m still living, well, that was one of the most joyous occasions of my life,” she says.

— Meleah Maynard

Lights, Camera, Action

Like many novelists, Peter Geye (B.A. ’00) secretly harbored a dream that someday one of his books would get made into a movie. But it was a dream and nothing more. So last year, when he was approached by Hello! Films, a Hollywood-based production company, about optioning film rights to his first novel, Safe from the Sea, Geye was caught off guard.

“It felt surreal,” he says. “Ever since the novel was published [in 2011], people who are close to me were always ribbing me, saying, ‘When is it going to get made into a movie?’ I told myself to never buy into that. But then it happened. And it caught me by surprise.” The movie deal coincided with the sale of Geye’s second novel, The Lighthouse Road, to Unbridled Books, publisher of Safe from the Sea. For a novelist, such moments of professional success are often spaced years apart, so Geye felt fortunate be able to focus his attention on another major project.

“I’d found out a week earlier about the movie and I felt giddy and distracted,” Geye says, explaining that his contract gives him “zero creative control” over the finished screenplay. “But as soon as I found out that Unbridled was interested in publishing my second book, it became the bigger deal to me, and I think that was a good thing. It was a relief that I could be more excited about publishing a second book than fixated on a movie deal.”

sp2014_petergeyePeter Geye, photograph by Matthew Batt

This shift of focus felt healthy, Geye explains, because movie deals are just deals, not actual movies. For every book that makes it to the silver screen, hundreds of optioned novels fester in production company offices.

But evidence is mounting that Safe from the Sea, the story of a troubled father-son relationship set on Minnesota’s North Shore, will actually make it to theaters. This fall, the Duluth News Tribune reported that filmmakers were scouting locations in the region, and Hello! Films producer Lenny Beckerman was quoted saying that he plans to begin shooting the film there in April.

These days, Geye has yet another distraction: He’s at work on his third novel, a sequel of sorts, to The Lighthouse Road, also set on the North Shore. During daytime hours in his family’s southwest Minneapolis home, the proud Gopher—“I love that place like a kid loves Christmas,” he says about the University—also focuses on what he calls his “real job,” as a stay-at-home dad of three children, ages 8, 6, and 4.

As for Tinseltown dreams, Geye is working on a laissez- faire attitude. “We’ll see what happens,” he says. “There is always the outside chance that it won’t end up happening, but signs point to it actually getting done.”

— Andy Steiner


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