Monday, July 29, 2013

Dow Chemical donates 100 volunteers, funds to upgrade Roethke Home Museum

The boyhood home of Pulitzer-winning poet Theodore Roethke, 1805 Gratiot

story and photos by janet i. martineau

On two days at the end of September, upwards of 100 red-shirted Dow Chemical Company employees will descend on Saginaw’s Theodore Roethke Home Museum to give the property an upgrade inside and out.

Announced today, the DowGives program volunteers will work from 8am to 4:30pm on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 26 and 27, at 1805 Gratiot, where the Pulitzer-winning poet grew up,  and its adjoining property next door at 1759 Gratiot, the home of his Uncle Carl.

Together, Carl and Ted’s father Otto operated a massive greenhouse business in back of the two homes -- glass structures occupying 25 acres and long since torn down but which were featured prominately in Roethke’s nature-rich poetry.

“The Roethke Museum is a National Literary Landmark,” said Dow Chemical spokesman Mike Kolleth, a Saginaw Township resident who is directing his company’s involvement in the DowGives Roethke project. 

 “As such, it is a point of pride for Saginaw and the entire Great Lakes Bay region.  As a member of this community, Dow supports The Friends of Theodore Roethke’s commitment to history, literacy and community outreach. We are pleased that we can play a role to ensure a strong future for this landmark and important community resource.”

The DowGives program, says Kolleth, was established to ensure that Dow’s grant-making and employee volunteer efforts combine to make the greatest possible impact on quality of life for people of the Great Lakes Bay region.

The restoration work, he said, will include significant upgrades to the museum’s electrical system as well as 35 to 40 tasks including interior and exterior painting,  landscaping and general handyman work. And the volunteers will come from all functions within the company.

In addition to organizing the volunteer workers, Kolleth said, the DowGives project includes a grant to help cover materials, supplies and some related upgrade work. 

“Dow’s support is transformational for the museum and the community,” said Annie Ransford, president of the Friends of Theodore Roethke, the non-profit organization which owns and operates the two homes.

Unveiling of an enlargement of the Roethke Forever stamp
“To have Dow and its people involved in the restoration project will enable our group to grow and more effectively fulfill our mission to promote, preserve and protect Roethke’s literary legacy by restoring these family residences for cultural and educational opportunities.”

Literary experts consider Theodore Roethke among the greatest poets of the 20th Century and his poems are in textbooks and anthologies worldwide.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate James Dickey referred to Roethke as, “The greatest poet our country has ever produced. I don't see anyone else that has the kind of deep, gut vitality that Roethke's got. Whitman was a great poet, but he's no competition for Roethke."

Roethke was born in Saginaw in 1908 and died in 1963, in Seattle where he was teaching at the University of Washington. He was raised in the home that is now the museum, and his sister June Roethke lived there until her death in 1997. 

The Friends of Theodore Roethke obtained the two homes in 1999 and since then have offered summer literacy camps for children, an annual Roethke birthday “party,” a series of “In a Poet’s Backyard” programs featuring workshops, authors and poets, and a variety of special events.

In 2008, the Friends of Theodore Roethke was given an All Area Arts Award by the Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission.

Ted Roethke graduated from Arthur Hill High School and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He visited Saginaw frequently throughout his post-graduate years, and sister June typed many of his manuscripts in the family home.

In 1954, Roethke was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for “The Waking,” one of nine books of poetry he penned.  He also won two National Book Awards, in 1959 for “Words for the Wind” and in 1965 for “The Far Field.” 

In 2012, he was one of 10 American poets featured on a United States Postal Service forever stamp sheet, for which a special Saginaw cancellation was created. His poems have been set to music by several award-winning composers, and one his former students penned a play about him, titled  “First Class.” And he was inducted into the Saginaw Hall of Fame several years ago.

Also in 2012, Jeff Vande Zande, a creative writing professor at Delta College, published a novel titled “American Poet.” It takes place in part at the Roethke House and this year was named a Michigan Notable Book -- an annual event during which the Library of Michigan selects and  promotes 20 books celebrating the state’s ethnic, historical, literary and cultural legacy.

The Theodore Roethke Home Museum was awarded National Literary Landmark status in 2004. A Michigan Historic Marker marks its location and the house is included in the National Register of Historic Sites. Earlier this year the City of Saginaw declared May 25th Theodore Roethke Day to mark the poet’s birth date.

Kolleth, also the Friends of Theodore Roethke vice president, has  issued an invitation for residents of Saginaw to join the DowGives volunteers on Sept. 26-27.

“There is plenty of work to go around those two days. Just let us know what skills you can lend. Call the museum at (989) 928 0430 or email us at”

Other recent DowGives projects have included a baseball field in Hemlock, an outdoor activities court at the Midland Salvation Army, a sheltered picnic area at the Bay City State Recreation Area, and multipurpose area at Midland’s ROCK Youth Center.

The Friends web site is It is also on Facebook (Friends of Theodore Roethke) and Twitter @RoethkeFriends.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

SVSU's "Route 66" musical is one fun, fun, fun road trip

From left, Logan Hahn, Dave Ryan,  Zach Bauer and Blake Mazur in "Route 66"

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Cowboys, cars, cows, cops and crotchety old women -- the four-member male cast of Saginaw Valley State University’s “Route 66” plays ‘em all.

They also, in 90 minutes, take a bus ride, pack in more songs and sight gags per square inch than seems possible, play a guitar, don a BIG hat, serve coffee as a waitress, dance, lick a lollipop, and expend more energy than Consumers Energy on a hot day.

Running  through Sunday (July 21), “Route 66” pays homage to the famed historic highway by serving up 32 road-themed songs from the 1940s to the 1960s as we take a quick trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. 

What writer/creator Roger Bean does not do with the song selections and continuity, director Ric Roberts fills in with everything else. This is a tight, fast-running, detail-driven show that fires on all cylinders -- even adding a graphic tribute to an iconic Saginaw road, a radio dial that plays ads from the era (Chevrolet and the Edsel among them), and a ton of glitter in the Jerry Dennis set with a road divider strip dpwn its middle.

Thankfully, too, the cast is more than up to the demands made of it -- Zach Bauer, Logan Hahn, Blake Mazur and Dave Ryan. Collectively the four blend wonderful harmonies, hit the highest of high notes and some low ones, serve up a cascade of hilarious varying expressions (menacing trucks, cows, women young and old, cops and more), brave an a cappella song, dance smoothly and loik ike they are having “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

No way can we single out one more than the others because this is truely an ensemble piece. And it is expressions on these guys that sell the show more than anything else.

Baby Boomers are gonna LOVE this show too for its parade of “slippery hillbilly” songs of the era. My goodness, the odes sung to cars in those days and the chatter coming out of radio stations.

Stand outs in the show -- numerous ones, among them “Beep Beep,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Girl on the Billboard,” “Mother Road.”

Strong support too from the hidden band of Janna Kern on keyboards, Bill Portman on bass, Steve Nyquist on percussion and Joe Balbaugh on guitar.

Nuf said. Go explore it for yourself and savor all the treats it serves up. Perfect summer show. Runs 7:30pm Tuesday through Saturday and 3pm Sunday. Gonna be a sellout.

For more pictures see

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Midland's Dow Gardens hosting 100 pieces of sculpture from Zimbabwe

story and photos by janet i. martineau

Vivienne Croisette and some of the smaller sculptures
A ballerina in an arabesque pose lies prone on the grass, next to a babbling brook.

An owl cocks its head sideways, as if to wonder who you are invading its thicket home.

And a mother clutches her daughter as they stand on a hill overlooking a forest.

All of them carved out of serpentine stone, in a far away tropical land called Zimbabwe, making their home through Aug. 4 with 100 other pieces in Midland’s 110-acre Dow Gardens, in what is one of the most unusual and must-see sculpture exhibitions to ever visit the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Said a Newsweek article, “Zimbabwean sculpture is perhaps the most important art form to emerge from Africa in this century.” 

And with the show in Dow Gardens are two artists from that nation, demonstrating their craft seven days a week. (Dow Gardens, 1809 Eastman Ave., is open 9am to 8:30pm daily. And if you have mobility problems, check the ending of this story.)

How the sculptures, some weighing up to a ton, and the two men got to Midland is a story 13 years in the making, when a British woman with `an art  promotion background was invited to Zimbabwe “to see if I could help promote their art and introduce it to the world. I was supposed to be there three weeks.”

Now Vivienne Croisette lives in a suburb of that country’s capital city of 1.2 million with her French husband Joseph and son Emile, 4, and devotes her entire life to Zimbabwean sculpture. “I am there for life unless I get kicked out.

“My husband and I  spend six months in Zimbabwe (which translates to great stone house) looking for pieces -- just about every day I go in one direction and he in another -- and then we spend six months touring it,” says Croisette in her British accent, which quickly turns to French when her husband appears on the scene.

A ballerina in serpentine stone
It is she visitors will likely meet in the Dow Gardens gift shop, selling smaller and more affordable pieces than the also-for-sale ones spread throughout the grounds outside with prices that can go past $1,000. 

Midland is one of only two stops in the U.S. this year; the first being the Naples Botanical Garden in Florida.  

From Midland  the show heads to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ont. 

It also has visited the Chelsea Flower Show in London. Plans are in the works for the Shanghai Botanical Garden in China. 

And among the buyers of pieces are places like MOMA in New York and the Rodin in Paris ... .which means Midland is traveling in impressive company.

Croisette says she prefers a garden-like setting for the show, “because the stone is a natural product, and it just looks better in a garden environment with flowers,” so Midland was a natural when she learned about it during their Florida venue. Each stop is a six-week stay, given the massive installation process at  each venue -- a process her husband oversees.

Back home the couple works with 200 artists, some of them now fifth generations of family stone carvers working in a variety of serpentine  mined in that nation with a land mass slightly larger than Montana.

“We buy pieces from carvers  who are 80 and 90 and young ones 14 to 16. Each year we always try to find new artists as well as ones we have worked with for years.”

One of abstract works
She then relates a story of a young man who sought her out and begged her to come see his pieces -- in what turned out a “four-hour drive to the middle of nowhere on a mostly dirt one-track road.”

The more she drove the angrier she got that she was talked into this trip, which would include traveling in darkness. “He kept telling me, ‘You will sell every piece.’”

And she has of his giraffe forms, “some of the most beautiful things I had seen in a long time. I bought the whole lot.”

What is interesting about this traveling show is that it comes at virtually  no cost to Midland. The Croisettes buy the pieces from the artists in Zimbabwe and then live off the sales they make of the pieces at each stop, through the Internet, and to museums and collectors. 

The touring works travel in two 40-foot trucks -- and each of them, no matter how large, is carved from a single piece of stone.

“At the end of the day we can do this because we have no overhead costs and we are not out to make a massive profit. We are in this to make people aware of this art form and the Zimbabwean culture.”

It is, she says, a struggling culture with 80 percent unemployment, with a life expectancy of but the mid-30s due to AIÎS/HIV and poor health care, ruled by a dictator,  but whose 13 million citizens are  kind  and welcoming.

The  country also mines granite, platinum, gold and diamonds in addition to the serpentine artistry and tourism that includes Victoria Falls.

As for the mobility challenged who would like to view the Dow Gardens installation, there are two options. At 12:45pm Monday through Friday, a five-passenger vehicle makes the rounds and the gardens also has three wheelchairs and four Amigos.  Reservations are advised, at a cost of $5, by calling 989-631-2677.

Admission to the gardens  is $5 for adults and $1 for students ages 6-17; free for 5 and under. 

For more pictures of the pieces in Midland: