Terrie Adams, center, is pictured with, from left, Fr. Rajesh who serves the Bayfield Peninsula cluster, SDCCW Chaplain Fr. Jim Brinkman and Bishop James P. Powers after mass at the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s Conference in June. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Terrie Adams was just a girl when she first encountered the indigenous peoples whose history would intertwine with her own, a connection that would eventually lead to her finding a home with the Red Cliff mission church of St. Francis.

Born in Ohio, Adams helped in the family’s commercial tomato fields alongside the migrant workers her father employed. She recalls hoeing between the plants while her father tilled the rows. She also remembers selling the early tomatoes at her own little stand and hearing the church bells in nearby Delphi ringing in the distance.

The church school she attended in the town, which had been founded by a German priest and 16 families, was double the size of the public school. Her father’s family had been one of those founders, with history going back to the 1840s.

“The Catholic community was the only thing I knew,” Adams said. One of six children, she said her mother’s sole request in retirement was to live within walking distance of the Catholic church.

This living love for the church would lead Adams’ oldest sister, now 82, to give her life as a religious. She joined the order of teachers who served their school and still teaches full-time in their hometown, even teaching English to the current generation of migrant farmers in the evenings.

Adams also went into a career as a teacher. After teaching at Catholic schools in Ohio for 13 years, she took a principal’s position in Marinette, wanting more of a northern winter. After studying for her educational leadership master’s degree at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, she moved to the Twin Cities and took a job with Control Data Corporation.

Although not in the classroom, Adams’ role maintained her connection to the education field and the Montessori methods she had learned back in East Toledo from a friend more than two decades earlier.

“I didn’t want to be part of perpetuating the problem of kids who did well and then were paid for grades they didn’t have to work for,” Adam said referring to her earliest classroom experience. Through the alternative methods she had learned, she set up learning centers in her room which allowed her to work with each students’ unique learning style.

There are two approaches to education, Adams shared. That of the “table rasa, or blank slate,” leading to a teaching style of “pouring in – teach them this, teach them, teach them and show them how.”

She embraced the alternate approach, that of “educare,” in Latin, the same word for bringing the horse out from the barn.

“I tried to bring out what was there… It was amazing how trusting and open these kids were,” she said.

The students’ experience of being guided, and cooperating in the education process, was something that Adams could bring to the mission she had been given at Control Data. She was tasked with designing a teacher management system to help identify which students were ready for which topic of the curriculum.

Through the outplacement of some former colleagues, Adams once again adapted her skills and started a side business for building resumes and developing skills based on set goals for future employment. Adams worked for 17 years in education followed by 17 years in business.

Age 43 when she first got married, to a photojournalist she met through a connection made at a singles mixer, Adams described their relationship, “He is wings and I am roots.” After traveling the world with his job, the couple both retired in 2001 but didn’t slow down.

The Adamses moved to Peru to help with a project they got involved with through their local Rotary Club. Learning Spanish through an immersive course and on the fly, the couple helped the oceanside town of Chimbote (six hours north of Lima) to finish a citywide sewer system and establish local engagement. During their six years in Peru, the Adamses also started the “Dollars for Scholars” program with seed money from Rotary to offer scholarships for local youth to continue their education.

One other project they developed is called “Leaders for Tomorrow.” Youths would gather for a full-day retreat focused on bringing them together to come up with a project to help improve their community. Partnered with Rotary and other local groups, these teenagers would propose their idea to local leaders, carry out the implementation and experience the positive influence they could be tomorrow, and today.

With her appreciation of indigenous culture solidified after the three years in Peru, after returning, the Adamses volunteered out west in national parks and spent winters in Tuscon, Arizona. It was there that they learned more about the Spanish Jesuit missions going back to the 17th century in that area. When they travelled through northern Wisconsin – the only open campground being the one in Red Cliff – Adams could see “God’s hands” at work.

She could hear the church bells ringing and it was just a minute’s walk to the church.

“We fell in the love with the community,” Adams stated, adding that they knew what “a lovely opportunity” it would be to connect with the Native community and the Catholic missionary history of the area as well. She said what a privilege it has been to live among Native Americans and learn from their love of and respect for creation.

Since moving to the Chequamegon Peninsula, Adams has built upon her interest in bringing the local community together to understand the Native culture as well as serving on the board of directors for the city’s Community Education and Recreation Center.

One of Adams’ most meaningful acts of service to her parish church is letting herself by guided to find wildflowers to put together bouquets to decorate the little church.