Creating Her Own Opportunities
March 2020 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
German native and St. Simons resident Ute Kleemann-Sporftschuetz has a quote that has guided her entire life: “Don’t wait for an opportunity, create it,” she said with a bright smile. “That’s what I do.”
That philosophy has literally guided her around the world. As a teen in her hometown of Stuttgart, Germany, she began traveling as a member of the West Germany Olympic diving team. “I was the German champion in the one- and three-meter dives 20 times, but I didn’t make it to the Olympics in Montreal because they only chose to take divers who competed in all three events.”
She took the disappointment in stride, but one team trip was particularly upsetting to her. “It was when Germany was still divided, and we went into East Germany. It was a very negative experience. It was Germany, but then, it wasn’t. It was very sad.” Despite that experience, her interest in travel and learning about other cultures continued to grow.
When she and her husband Martin married in 1981, he insisted they honeymoon in the United States. “He had been an exchange student in the 70s and fell in love with America. His guest parents lived in Minneapolis. We took our honeymoon driving from the east coast to the west coast seeing beautiful places in six weeks.”
After their honeymoon, the couple began their life together in their native country were Ute, who was a teacher, had a sports school for 300 children ages 3 to 12. “I loved every one of them.” Martin embarked on his career as a self-employed businessman. They also welcomed their two children, daughter Tina, followed by son Tim.
While the family traveled, they still lived in Germany until Martin got a one-year business opportunity in Clearwater, Florida, in 1998. “That was our first time we moved away. What was supposed to be a one-year project turned into six. At the beginning, I hated it! I had no family, just our kids and no friends. I was crying every day. I had learned a little English when I worked with the children of American’s stationed in Germany at my diving school, but not enough to carry on a real conversation.”
Her children initially struggled as well. “Tina was 15 and wanted to go back,” she said. But Ute created what she wanted and what she felt she and her family needed. “I went to college in Clearwater to learn English. The kids were learning English at school. And because I love to cook, I started cooking for our neighbors. I made friends, and our kids made friends. Then I had my social life again.”
That positive experience turned out so well, she and Martin jumped at the chance to relocate to Dubai, UAE, where they lived and worked for 11 years. “I taught in a British school for a year and then worked in a South Korean dental clinic. I loved it there. We met people from all over the world. We went to parties with people from different cultures. It is a beautiful, friendly country.”
As much as she and her husband enjoyed living in Dubai, long work weeks and the cost of living took its toll. “My husband worked seven days a week, and I worked six. Everything there is very expensive. We lived at the Dubai Marina, which is full of ex-pats – a very exciting experience!”
They also continued to travel. Two of her favorite trips were to China and their 25th anniversary trip to San Francisco. “We were in Qingdao about a year before the Beijing Olympics – a nice experience but was so shocking and sad. Our translator, who had a second child, had to send her to live with her parents on a farm due to the Chinese government’s one child per family policy.”
While she would return to China to visit, she has no desire to return to India, where she lived for a brief three months after they left Dubai. “I was staying with a family to learn the culture but came down with Dengue fever.” This painful mosquito-borne disease is caused by any one of four closely related viruses to the viruses that cause West Nile infection and yellow fever.
“I would have loved to stay longer but I was very ill. I didn’t trust the health system there, so I went back to Germany and had to be under seven-day quarantine. The scary thing is the virus stays in your body and never goes away.
After she recovered, she and Martin remained in Germany for another two years before moving to St. Simons Island, sight unseen. “Our daughter is a lawyer and was in Ft. Lauderdale when she lost her job during the recession. She came to the Island on vacation and ended up opening a doggy daycare with her husband, St. Simons Puppy Paradise. Tina had become a U.S. citizen and sponsored our green cards to come to America. I had never been here, but I trust my daughter—she’s like a hero to me.”
Once they had secured green cards, the couple moved to St. Simons five-and-a-half years ago. Ute is also a life-long artist. She immediately got involved in the Golden Isles arts scene. “I’ve been making art my whole life. I especially loved painting watercolors in the 90s and renovating furniture.” You can clearly see Ute’s long-time passion for color and texture reflected in her vivid abstract artworks.
Ute and Martin are thoroughly enjoying life in the Golden Isles. “It wasn’t a big adjustment to live here, and we have met the nicest people. I’m not someone who is attached to things. I tell everybody this is paradise. I get to play tennis with my friends every day. That’s all I need.”
Material Girl: Ute’s mixed-media materials often include natural and metallic elements such as sand, cement, paper, ink and metal. She then covers her abstract collages in acrylics and vivid oil pastels.
Travel bucket List: “We are going to Alaska in May after our son, Tim, gets married in Vancouver.” Also, on her list are Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Yearly travel: “We try to visit Vancouver at least once a year to see our son. I also try to get back to Germany once a year to see my mother. She is 88 now and lives close to Stuttgart. My five siblings live close to her.”
Staying in Touch: Ute calls her mother every day on Skype. “I do try to keep friendships alive through email, Skype and WhatsApp. I don’t really miss Germany, but miss my family and childhood friends there.”
On second Thought: “I do miss the bakeries in Germany. The bread is so good! And I know it’s a funny thing to say, but until I moved to the U.S. I didn’t know you could buy garlic in a jar! In Germany, you shop every day. I still do that here at Harris Teeter.”