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.


* A tribute to Rosemary Adam written by her former student John Darnielle of the band The Mountain Goats is here:



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