Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mortgage burning party celebrates end of long road for Theodore Roethke's boyhood home

Theodore Roethke's boyhood home, right, and his uncle's home at left

story and photo by janet i. martineau

Friends of Theodore Roethke today (May 15) announced it has made the final mortgage payment on the childhood home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Saginaw-raised poet. 

To celebrate, the group will host a hot dog roast and mortgage burning party from 1-4pm Sunday, May 25, at that 1805 Gratiot dwelling. The date also commemorates Roethke’s 106th birthday. He died in 1963 and is buried at Oakwood Cemetery.

“This is the realization of 15 years of hard work and fundraising,” said Annie Ransford, president of The Friends of Roethke.  The organization has long struggled to secure the home, which is also the Great Lakes Bay Region’s only National Literary Landmark, and the stone home next to it, which housed Roethke's uncle, Carl Roethke. 

Final payment on the two properties was secured in large part through a generous grant from The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, which supplemented the contributions made by Friends of Roethke members and other donors.

While state and national entities often provide support for educational programming, grant money was not available for the mortgage note, utilities and other necessary maintenance expenses. Private fundraising efforts had been constant, but relatively small, until Dow stepped in.

“Finally, this property truly belongs to our communities,” Ransford said. “Now Roethke’s memory can forever be preserved in this tangible, usable space.”

Last fall, under the DowGives program, more than 100 company and community volunteers also worked at the Roethke Home Museum properties over two days, to paint, remodel and landscape.

“Dow is proud to play a role in helping to secure the long-term future of this important institution,” said Dow spokesman Mike Kolleth, who led the DowGives program for the company. “The Roethke Museum is an important cultural and historical touchstone for the entire Great Lakes Bay region.”

The non-profit Friends of Roethke purchased the two homes and their property in 1998 to establish as a center for the literary arts. Roethke, who was featured on a US postage stamp in 2012, is widely considered one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century. His poems are in virtually every textbook and anthology throughout the world.

Much of his work was inspired by the family’s massive greenhouse business, which once stood behind the two homes.

“Our thanks goes out to the Dow Foundation and the hundreds of members and donors who have contributed to the organization over the years,” Ransford said. “Thanks in large part to the Dow and The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, the museum is in is the best shape that it has been in physically and financially for many years. 

“We have a strong foundation upon which to grow and flourish. We welcome all members of the community to join us in celebrating this next chapter in our development and building our region’s literary heritage.”

The May 25th celebration event is open to the public and admission is by freewill donation. Members of the River Junction Poets and longtime Roethke supporter Rosie King, a poet, will throughout the afternoon read Roethke poems in the backyard.

Salads, a birthday cake and ice cream will be served along with the hot dogs. The mortgage burning will take place at 3pm. 

Friends of Roethke is also embarking on a project to reacquire some of the original Roethke furniture for the 1805 home. Many of its furnishings were sold at auction following the 1997 death of the poet’s sister, June Roethke. Records from the auction sale are no longer available.

We know what furniture was in the home, we just aren’t sure where it ultimately ended up,” Ransford said. “We would be delighted to repurchase the items to help us maintain the historical integrity of the museum.”

Those with information on the furnishings or an interest in joining the group can contact the organization at (989) 928-0430 or via e-mail at


  1. "I learn by going where I have to go".

  2. Congratulations to all of the hard working, hard thinking, Friends of Theodore Roethke . . . and heartfelt thanks to the generosity of the Roethke friends at Dow, Dow Foundation, NEA, and so many others across the country. What a great way for us all to come together.

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