Following in Mom’s footsteps

Daughter among many inspired by life of Claudia Wallace-Gardner

Claudia Wallace-Gardner

Claudia G. Wallace-Gardner, though gone, is far from forgotten. Even beyond family and friends, in whose hearts her beloved spirit lives on, she leaves a lasting presence that enriched, indeed empowered the community and public at large.

Ezell Jones, who helped Wallace-Gardner found the nationally renowned Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota, reflects, “If you move a pebble on the beach, it changes the shoreline. She was a pebble, inspiring my life and others.”

Noted scholar Dr. John S. Wright, University of Minnesota professor of Afro-American & African Studies and English, adds, “Claudia Wallace-Gardner played a pivotal role in the original group of faculty, staff and alumni who helped the department of African American and African Studies mobilize local community and business leaders in the groundbreaking development of the Archie Givens Sr. collection.”

This crowning achievement certainly wasn’t her sole contribution in a career that numbered professional, civic and academic directorships, not the least being her leadership of the former Twin Cities Opportunity Industrialization Center (TCOIC), now Summit Academy.

The pioneering professional was the first African American to serve as director of special events at the University of Minnesota, where she worked for 17 years. At the university, she directed inaugurations for presidents C. Peter Magrath, Kenneth H. Keller, and Nils Hasselmo.

She oversaw ceremonial events for U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, NAACP President Roy Wilkins, President of the Republic of Finland Urho Kekkonen, Japanese Minister of Affairs Sunado Sonoda, and Chancellor of Austria Bruce Kriesky.

Briefly, she was managing director at Penumbra Theatre Company. Her volunteer service entailed, among many other efforts, providing expertise on the W. Harry Davis Foundation Board of Directors; at Twin Cities YWCA; The Loft Literary Center; the University of Minnesota Alumni Society, which she co-founded and where she was its first vice president; the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education; the Greater Minneapolis Girl Scout Council; and the University of Minnesota Association of Black Employees.

Tiffanee Wallace Jules

Wallace-Gardner’s daughter, Tiffanee Wallace Jules, affectionately says of her mother, “I owe everything I am to her.” The proverbial apple never fell far from the tree as she herself swiftly got off to an auspicious start in the work world. “While attending the U of M, I became a staff reporter at the African American Learning Resource Center [and wrote for] the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and the Minnesota Daily. Following in Mom’s footsteps.”

Before assuming her present position as group membership sales and event agent for AAA Texas, Tiffanee interned with the local NBC affiliate KARE-11. She went on to the American Film Institute (AFI) in Hollywood, event-managing (among other projects) Ron Howard’s Parenthood, events for AFI’s board of directors, and the lecture series committee with Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey.

Tiffanee also worked with her mother during the year Claudia was at Penumbra, and together they created the management company Beyond Your Dreams Events. “I have learned so much from her: [to be] reliable, experienced, and a caring professional who understands relationship building. I’ve been successful because of a high level of drive, motivation and goal setting…major asset[s] my mother taught me.”

Tiffanee recalls with heartfelt pride the difference her mother helped make for others as the TCOIC community program director. “[People] should have a trade, be able to work [and] be able to raise their kids.”

It wasn’t merely about barely getting by and pulling down minimum wage. Claudia wanted them to have knowledge under their belts that would help them get somewhere in life. “So many were able to go through TCOIC to learn [job skills] and be in the workforce and provide for their families.”

While her work at the U of M entailed moving and shaking among the power brokers, Tiffanee treasures a personal memory of her mom and Maya Angelou, who referred to her as her “Minnesota family.” They would always have high tea and brunch whenever she was in town.”

Angelou may have enjoyed an aspect of Claudia’s abilities that the public missed out on — her culinary wherewithal, particularly at whipping up a dish of macaroni and cheese. Tiffanee calls her mac and cheese and spaghetti dishes “heavenly, delectable and appetizing.”

Tiffanee says that a perk of her mom being so accomplished at carrying out events was when she hosted events at home. The festivities “were full of love, food, great conversation, laughter, music and dancing. I enjoyed spending time with her, listening to her stories, her laughter. I can hear her laugh now.”

Over the past two years, Tiffanee was there for Claudia as her caregiver and cherishes having had the chance to literally give back, taking care of her mom just as her mom once upon a time did for her. “It was full circle. I’m grateful I was able to do it.”

November 11, five days after her passing at age 69, Gov. Mark Dayton declared it “Claudia G. Wallace-Gardner Day.”

A celebration of her life will be held Saturday, January 13, 2018, 11:30 – 3:30 pm, in Coffman Memorial Union Theater at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, MN 55403