|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 RoethkeMuseum@yahoo.com.”
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 www.RoethkeHouse.org. It is also on Facebook (Friends of Theodore Roethke) and Twitter @RoethkeFriends.