Retired Brig. Gen. Clara Adams-Ender could have devoted her Carver Legacy Lecture at Simpson College to detailing her many accomplishments.
After all, she rose from a staff nurse in the Army to serve as vice president for nursing at Walter Reed Medical Center and was the first Army nurse to command as a general officer.
Instead, Adams-Ender explained to the Simpson community why George Washington Carver still matters in this, the year that marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.
“Our world has been greatly enriched because he lived and chose to be productive and to help others and because he had the desire to make a difference,” she said.
Adams-Ender is the 41st person invited to give the Carver Legacy Lecture. She also received the Carver Medal, which was established in 2008 to honor the man whose collegiate academic career began at Simpson College.
An ebullient, humorous speaker, Adams-Ender thanked Simpson President Jay Simmons for his introduction, saying it was so complimentary, “even I’m looking forward to what I have to say.”
She added, “Thank you very much for inviting me to Simpson College. I will be rather honest with you, I may not have found this place had you not invited me.”
But Adams-Ender quickly turned the attention away from herself and back on Carver.
“Much of what this ceremony is about is celebrating a life well-lived,” she said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever remotely think that I could do anything that would compare to Dr. Carver’s greatness. He was a man who truly lived a well-planned life.”
Then Adams-Ender offered what amounted to a history lesson, saying her research had identified four “life lessons” from Carver’s life that still apply today.
“One, be persistent,” she said. “You’ll see a lot of definitions for persistence in the dictionary. Adams-Ender’s definition is, ‘The art of never giving up.’”
She reminded the Simpson audience that Carver was initially rejected by a Midwest college because of his race. He then walked 25 miles to register at Simpson.
“Think about that, students, when you don’t want to walk across the street,” she said. “Ladies and gentlemen, that is an example of persistence. He understood that he could be denied, delayed and obstructed, but he could never be stopped short of his goals.”
The second life lesson: Possess vision.
“It is the ability to see goals and objectives accomplished in your mind before they are actually accomplished,” she said.
A Simpson professor, Etta Mae Budd, recognized Carver’s artistic abilities in painting plants and flowers and encouraged him to study science.
“She saw a scientist long before he ever began to study it,” Adams-Ender said.
As a result of the professor’s vision, Carver went on to develop 300 derivative products from peanuts and 118 from sweet potatoes. He remained committed to improving the lives of the poor.
“Dr. Carver had a vision early on of being of service to the human race, and he used his intellect, spirit and communion with nature to be persistent in accomplishing his goals,” she said.
That led to the third life lesson: Giving service.
“Giving service means to give back and to help one’s self and others,” Adams-Ender said.
She noted that Carver’s grave includes the following notation: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”
The final life lesson: Being diverse in thought and action. “He worked with many scientists all over the world to share and advance knowledge.”
In summary, she said, “Dr. George Washington Carver – artist, inventor, scientist, author, teacher and humanitarian – will forever be remembered for what he gave the world as a human being and as a scientist.”
As part of her trip to Simpson, Adams-Ender spoke to a Simpson class and participated in the Women’s Leadership Seminar held on campus. In Des Moines, she visited with Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The audience for the Carver Medal Ceremony and Lecture included Dr. Julius Trimble, resident bishop of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, as well as the members of his cabinet.
“I thought the ceremony was just fabulous and appropriate in continuing the great legacy of Dr. Carver,” Trimble said. “I thought the brigadier general’s message was on point, that we need to live a life that matters. I affirm that. We do need to live a life that matters in all we do.”