Mom comforts families of fallen heroes

<p>The children and grandchildren of Mariann and Bart Adams surround them after a performance of the historical Nauvoo Pageant in Nauvoo, Illinois, last summer. Standing are Sherie Christensen, Bridget Christensen (in arms), Kathrine Christensen (in arms), Matt McNeff, Karen McNeff, Julie Adams, Brian Adams and McKenna Adams (in arms). Sitting are James Jed (J.J.) Adams, Adam Christensen, Michelle Adams, Hadley Adams (in arms) and Emilie Adams.</p>

Mariann Adams is a super-mom — a hurricane-force wind of love, resolve and creativity.

So, most who know the Pendleton mother of six probably won’t be surprised to learn Adams was selected as Mother of Achievement 2012 by American Mothers, Inc. The non-political, interfaith organization recently honored an outstanding mom from each state for making positive impacts on their state and nation. Adams caught the group’s attention with her passion for comforting families of fallen heroes and an idea that came to life in 2001 after she read a poem about 9/11.

The poem, “One,” begins:

“As the soot and dirt and ash rained down, we became one color.

As we carried each other down the stairs of the burning building, we became one class…”

The words could make a stirring and inspiring song, Adams realized. With Texas poet Cheryl Sawyer’s permission, Adams penned an additional verse to join with the original two. Her daughter Karen, then 15, set the words to music. Adams gathered her family and other performers who recorded the song at a Salt Lake City recording studio. Woven into the song are historical quotes by George Washington, Nathan Hale and other American heroes.

Once finished, Adams and friend Sheila Bradley wrote to the New York City Fire Department with the intention of sending a CD of the song, “One-United,” to families of each fallen firefighter. She asked how many copies to send and got a surprising response.

“They told us they’d been inundated with so much material,” Adams recalled. “They didn’t want us to send it.”

She sent a CD anyway, hoping for a change of heart and got one.

“As soon as they listened to the CD, they contacted us immediately and asked for almost 400 packages,” she said. Each package included a CD and a letter of appreciation and encouragement.

“In your own way you are also heroes,” reads an excerpt. “You have borne the unbearable and you will rise victorious. You are appreciated, and you inspire.”

Adam’s non-profit organization, One United Charity, Inc., now also consoles families of fallen soldiers with a second CD — “Treasuring You … and Healing from Loss.” The second recording was even more of a family affair. Adams consulted with her oldest daughter Sherie Christensen, a family therapist who lives in Boston to decide on content of songs to help those moving through the stages of grief. Adams, her husband Bart and children Sherie, Brian Adams, Karen McNeff, Julie Adams, J.J. Adams and Michelle Adams, all contributed to the second album of 17 songs, composing, singing and playing instruments.

The Adams family is close-knit, with family members often working in tandem. In 2009, for instance, Mariann, Bart and four of their children ran a marathon together. They often act and perform music as a group. As children, Mariann and Bart expected each of the Adams children to learn piano and one other instrument. Adams’ oldest daughter Sherie remembers starting the piano and violin at age 3 and taking up the flute at age 8. She said she appreciated her mom’s mothering style.

“She can see your potential and she pushes you toward it,” she said. “She put us so very much first in her life.”

Challenge, according to Sherie doesn’t daunt her mom, who home-schooled some of her children and even researched and designed her doctor husband’s surgery center.

“The word ‘can’t’ isn’t in her vocabulary,” she said. “It doesn’t exist.”

Mariann has lost count of how many CDs have gone out. Community volunteers sometimes help with packaging and mailing.

Letter of thanks from recipients often make Adams cry.

“They pour out their hearts,” Adams said. “I am touched by the thank you letters we receive, especially from young mothers who must now raise children without a father who has fallen. Freedom is not free. There are still heroes paying the ultimate price…”

Adams said this month’s honor, awarded May 9 at the national American Mothers convention, took her by surprise. She soon got an additional shock. Her sister, Vicki Gerlach, mother of 10, was also an honoree. Gerlach, of Eagle Mountain, Utah, won for founding a organization called Vote Families that surveys candidates on a variety of issues and publishes the information for interested voters.

Adams, a music teacher, also directs A+ Performing Arts, Inc. (To learn more about the charity founded by Adams in 2001, go to

Adams insists she is just a normal mother. Her advice to mothers is, “Do not get discouraged. Small things make a difference and eventually add up to great things.'"

American Mothers spokeswoman Sandy Sponaugle called Adams and the other mothers inspirations.

“These women are doing so much in their communities to impact people’s lives,” Sponaugle said. “They are an inspiration to all of us.”

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