The Adams Family (

Union Educated Since 1915

Sharyn Adams ’16 strolled past the Carnegie Building, past the grassy site where Jorgensen Hall once stood, and headed home after work. She is confident, cheerful and filled with a sense of purpose.

A fifth generation Union College graduate, Sharyn completed her Bachelor of Social Work degree in December 2015, and now works as
assistant to the vice president for Academic Administration. But her history at Union College is much greater than her diploma.

Legends learned from childhood

One of Sharyn’s earliest memories were bedtime stories told by her grandmother, Donna Adams Gibson ’65. Donna studied English education at Union where she met her husband, Paul Gibson ’66, a theology major.

Donna recounted stories of her days at Union when a matron seated students in the dining room as they arrived. Whenever Donna’s favorite meal was served in the cafeteria, she felt bad that the big, burly guys seated at her table had to wait for her to finish eating all of her food. At the time, it was common courtesy to wait for everyone to finish eating before excusing yourself from the table.

Men were allowed to walk the ladies only partway to the dorm. But late one winter night, Paul broke the rules to escort her to the front door. “I think she got into trouble with the dean because he walked her to the door,” Sharyn laughed. “Rules have definitely changed through the years.”

Tammy Adams ’89, Donna’s daughter and Sharyn’s mother, graduated from Union College with a nursing degree and now works as Union’s Student Health Director. She remembers Donna’s stories of working multiple jobs to pay for her tuition—in the boiler room, the laundry and the Carnegie Building (when it was the public library) because of her strong belief in education.

Laying down roots

Donna’s father and grandfather—Laurice and Cecil—also graduated from Union. Cecil’s father, John, moved his wife Vesta and their family to College View in 1915. All three of their children graduated from Union.

“He was a farmer and always carried a pocket dictionary,” Tammy said. Education, specifically Adventist education, proved important enough to uproot his family and call Union College home.

Cecil ’16, and his wife, Zibah Beaman, ’17 Adams, both graduated from Union with teaching degrees and taught in Kansas and western Nebraska. Their son, Laurice Adams ’52, the oldest of four children, continued the tradition and sent his daughter, Donna, to Union as well.

 Returning Home

The day after graduating from Union, Tammy married fellow classmate Peter Adams, a freshly graduated teacher who grew up on the East Coast. They lived in several locales when their children were young, including Iowa and Virginia. Tammy kept her nursing license current and spent many years focused on being a mom to Michael, Sharyn, Shaina and Stacy.

When there was an opening for an middle school teacher at College View Academy (then Helen Hyatt Elementary School), the family chose to return to their roots. Today, Peter teaches seventh and eighth grades at College View, from where his four children graduated.

Passing the torch

The positive, supportive atmosphere at Union created the perfect environment for Tammy’s family to form lasting relationships. “The effect that our choices make in our lives ties into our spirituality and our legacy,” she said. Many of Donna and Paul’s lifelong friends were classmates at Union, and she wanted a similar experience for her own children.

Beyond meaningful friendships, Tammy believes that college opens the mind to new viewpoints and that a God-focused worldview is vital. This spiritual aspect of education is why she and Peter encouraged their children to attend a Seventh-day Adventist college. “The spiritual foundation has made a significant impact on their lives,” said Tammy. “I can see it in them today.”

Growing up, Sharyn had no doubt about where her family stood on Adventist education. She remembers her grandmother Donna advising her to get an education—that it was worth it, no matter what. “That’s just the mindset I grew up in,” Sharyn recollected.

Helping Hands

As her college years approached, Sharyn wanted to strike out and find a new experience. But as doors opened at Union, she didn’t forget the family atmosphere her family loved. “Union was a place where my mom and grandma felt supported and valued,” she recalled.

Sharyn experienced that support firsthand when Lisa Forbes, associate professor of business and a neighbor, stopped by to help Sharyn register for fall classes. Amazed by that level of service, she was hooked.

Forbes’ academic advice and the financial advice she received from Taryn Rouse in Student Financial Services proved to be the rule, not the exception to her experience at Union. “Most people bend over backwards to help,” Sharyn admitted. The rest of her siblings felt it, too. Michael, now in dental school at the University of Nebraska, graduated from Union in 2012. Her younger sisters, Shaina and Stacy, are both students at Union.

Continuing the legacy

After spending a year as a taskforce dean at Upper Columbia Academy, Sharyn felt drawn to serve others. When she returned to Union, she changed her major to social work. Her social work advisor, Shawna
Herwick, took time to mentor her in finding a niche: creating policy.

That discovery ultimately led Sharyn to intern for a lobbyist organization and then to complete her social work practicum under the supervision of State Senator Kate Bolz. The ability to assist others through helping shape public policy was extremely rewarding for Sharyn and she believes it made her choice of education worthwhile. “God worked it out.”

Now Sharyn feels more connected to Union because of her family ties. Her grandparents come to Union for reunions and share their special connections to the campus and its history. Her family even signed a brick from Jorgensen Hall and gave it to her grandpa Paul for his birthday. Today when Sharyn thinks about being a fifth generation Union College graduate, she feels “it’s pretty remarkable.”

(Originally published at


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