By Bill Brewer
Good teachers make an impact on students’ lives, even outside the classroom. Darlene Adams was an influence on her students at St. Mary School in Oak Ridge even though she had been away from them since last spring after relocating to Seattle.
Molly Deinhart is one of those students giving something back to the teacher who gave so much as she educated her young charges about Spanish.
After battling ovarian cancer since 2012, Mrs. Adams took a leave of absence from St. Mary last spring and moved to Washington with her husband, where she could extend her treatment options. Her brave six-year fight against the disease ended Oct. 15, when she died in Seattle with her husband by her side.
While out of sight, Mrs. Adams most definitely was not out of mind at St. Mary. Molly can attest to that. Molly, an eighth-grader and budding cyclist, turned an idea to honor Mrs. Adams into a fundraiser to create a scholarship in her name at St. Mary.
Molly took her idea and set wheels in motion, literally, devising the Tour de Mary bike ride that, to date, has raised approximately $10,000 for the Darlene Adams Scholarship. Molly’s original goal for the scholarship fund was $5,000.
On Oct. 5, Molly, her dad, John Deinhart, and Father Joe Reed set out from St. Mary on their way to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church and School, a 125-mile ride taking the back roads from Oak Ridge to Chattanooga. St. Mary students and faculty, together with St. Mary Parish pastor Father Brent Shelton, gave them an enthusiastic send-off at 8 a.m. as school was beginning.
The faithful trio pedaled at a steady pace, making it to Soddy-Daisy by nightfall on Oct. 5, putting some 90 miles of the road trip behind them. After spending the night in a Soddy-Daisy hotel, Molly, John, who is director of the Diocese of Knoxville Office of Stewardship and Strategic Planning, and Father Reed, who is the associate pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral, rode into Our Lady of Perpetual Help the next afternoon, where they received a hero’s welcome from students, faculty, OLPH School principal Leslie Fox, and OLPH pastor Father Jim Vick.
After exchanging high-fives and signing autographs, Molly was ushered into the OLPH gym, where an all-school rally was held for her, her dad, and Father Reed.
“It was great seeing all the kids at Our Lady of Perpetual Help,” Molly said.
Molly’s mother, Crystal Deinhart, said the St. Mary send-off was greatly appreciated and the OLPH rally was quite unexpected.
“It was very touching how they welcomed Molly,” Mrs. Deinhart said. St. Mary and OLPH students and faculty aren’t the only ones who have enthusiastically embraced the Tour de Mary. Information about the bike ride, Mrs. Adams, and the scholarship in her name has spread throughout the diocese and also on social media.
And a fundraising webpage, crowdrise.com/tour-de-mary/fundraiser/mollydeinhart, was set up as a donation site for the scholarship. The CrowdRise site still is accepting donations for the scholarship.
On the fundraising site, Molly introduces the effort by stating,“Mrs. Adams taught me Spanish at St. Mary’s since I was little. Many of those years, she also battled ovarian cancer. She is one of the strongest, most inspiring people I know. My name is Molly Deinhart, and I am in eighth grade at St. Mary’s in Oak Ridge, Tenn. I am going to ride my bike with my dad and Father
Joe Reed from St. Mary’s to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Chattanooga — 125 miles — to raise money for a scholarship in honor of Mrs. Adams. We will pedal our bikes the whole way — leaving St. Mary’s on Wednesday, Oct. 5, and arriving at OLPH on Thursday, Oct. 6. Each morning we will say the rosary and pray for Mrs. Adams, her family, and for St. Mary’s School, which she loves so much. We will ride for her and for all those who have cancer. We hope that we can use the money we raise to create a scholarship in her name. I hope this will help kids get a chance to attend St. Mary’s and experience the learning, love, and friendship there like I did. Please help fund the Tour de Mary and bless Mrs. Adams with your support and prayers.”
While she was hopeful people would respond to Mrs. Adams, whose 35th birthday was Oct. 1, Molly has been pleasantly surprised at the response to the Tour de Mary.
“I didn’t think we would get quite the number of donations or publicity that we did,” she said, giving her first long bike ride positive reviews. “It was a lot of fun. It was pretty hard, but it was great. The first day we did 90 miles, and that is the longest I have done. There also were a lot of hills.”
Molly’s dad also had positive reviews for the two-day ride and the hard work that led to it.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Molly and Father Joe. It was an incredible experience to share with them. Molly communicated with Mrs. Adams over the summer and then in September developed this idea of doing something special for her all on her own. I couldn’t be prouder of how she initiated the idea, approached (St. Mary School principal) Sister Marie Blanchette Cummings, OP, and trained for the effort. We did our first ride together of less than 10 miles, and within weeks she was training on rides of 50 and 60 miles or more,” Mr. Deinhart said.
“I think the thing I’m the most proud about is how Molly really put her focus, effort, and energy into doing something beyond herself for a teacher and the school that she loves so much. I know she continues to keep Mrs. Adams in her prayers every day. I couldn’t be prouder of her and recognize that the wonderful teachers at St. Mary’s School have been such an important part of the person she’s becoming,” he continued.
Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Knoxville, praised the Tour de Mary for the way it honors Mrs. Adams and brings the diocese together in a spiritual way.
“It’s pulling the entire Catholic community in East Tennessee, including our schools, together,” Sister Mary Marta said. “And it’s just great that Darlene, having been a graduate of Sacred Heart School, had the chaplain of Sacred Heart School — Father Joe Reed — actively supporting this fundraiser.”
Sister Mary Marta also praised Molly individually for her inspirational act of love and kindness and cited her parents for their guidance and support.
Katie Schreiber, a St. Mary teacher and close friend of Mrs. Adams, echoed Sister Mary Marta’s feelings about the fundraiser. Mrs. Schreiber had known Mrs. Adams since 1995, when they were freshmen at Knoxville Catholic High School.
Mrs. Schreiber had attended St. Mary in elementary school, while Mrs. Adams had attended Sacred Heart. They then began teaching together at St. Mary in 2009, and Mrs. Adams was a bridesmaid in Mrs. Schreiber’s 2010 wedding.
“We were inseparable,” Mrs. Schreiber said. “We have so much history. We’ve shared a lot of faith filled moments.”
Mrs. Schreiber has missed her colleague and remained in contact with her despite the distance and the illness. “Even though she was in Seattle, she was not forgotten. She was on our mind and in our prayers,” she said.
“One thing I can say about her is she always maintained a positive attitude. There were days when she felt terrible, but she pushed through and taught, and always had a smile on her face. She was a great colleague. She may not have been here at St. Mary, but she was here in heart and spirit. And we were with her,” Mrs. Schreiber added.
Mrs. Adams had quite an impact on students for several years. In 2014, St. Mary students raised nearly $3,000 to help with the Spanish teacher’s medical bills by holding a roller-skating fundraiser.
Sister Marie Blanchette praised Mrs. Adams for the example she set as a teacher and in her battle with cancer.
“Mrs. Adams was well-loved, and she deeply touched the kids’ lives.
She did a great job teaching, and she fought a hard fight for many years and stayed strong,” Sister Marie Blanchette said.
Sister Marie Blanchette also praised Molly for getting the Tour de Mary off the ground and getting her classmates behind the effort.
“I was blown away by Molly’s generosity and her determination to do this. She knew Mrs. Adams loved St. Mary’s and wanted to do something to remember Mrs. Adams,” Sister Marie Blanchette said. “Molly was very effective in getting the school behind this. Her eighth-grade class made a donation as a group. She has really rallied the troops.”
St. Mary School had an “out-of-uniform day” on Oct. 6, where every student who made a donation to the
Darlene Adams scholarship could be out of school uniform as long as they wore proper attire with the school colors: blue and white. The donations added up to some $500.
“It’s beautiful to see the way our school, our parents, and the greater community have gotten behind this. They all have really responded in a beautiful way, and it is awe-inspiring,” Sister Marie Blanchette said.
The Tour de Mary was a first for Father Reed, too. He said the three trained for the bike ride over about six weeks, but it was the longest ride he has taken. As they rode, each shared the lead at different times, and they pushed each other to reach their destination.
As Molly and Father Reed shared their first long-distance ride, he put the trip in proper perspective.
He noted that Mrs. Adams was a Catholic school student who used her education as she grew into an adult to teach a new generation of Catholic school students to do great things. He said Molly exemplified this new generation of students willing to sacrifice for Christ and His people.
“St. Paul said, ‘I make up in my own body that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.’ Christ is so generous. If we suffer, we tuck our suffering in the cross toward the suffering of the cross. There is a joy in our suffering, because it is for something greater than ourselves,” Father Reed said.
Father Reed admires Molly for launching the Tour de Mary and attracting support for it throughout the St. Mary community and beyond.
“She constantly blows me away. I wish I had the gumption to do the things she does almost innately. She has a boldness and a sense of responsibility; she has that perfect blend of boldness and prudence,” he said.
The associate pastor believes the trio made a good team, and he was heartened by the way they accomplished their goal for Mrs. Adams and the St. Mary students who will benefit from the scholarship in her name. He also believes there is a spiritual message in Mr. Deinhart’s philosophy toward cycling.
“He has said, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,’” Father Reed said.
And perhaps that philosophy will come in handy again. Molly said she is considering a second Tour de Mary next year.