As thousands of cars and trucks zoom down M-46 aka Gratiot Road, I wonder how many people notice the two somewhat ordinary houses between Sandra Court and Larch Street. A green Michigan historical marker stands in front declaring their significance, but it is almost impossible to stop and read it on such a busy road. In case you have never read it the sign reads.
Distinguished poet Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963) was born in Saginaw and grew up in this house. The house was built around 1911 for his parents, Otto and Helen Roethke. Otto’s brother Carl lived in the adjacent fieldstone house. Together, the brothers managed the William Roethke Floral Company, founded in 1880 by their father, Wilhelm Roethke, a Prussian immigrant. The company’s extensive greenhouses once stood on the land behind these two houses. Theodore worked in the greenhouses with his father and his experiences inspired many of his poems Roethke attended local schools and the University of Michigan, obtaining a masters degree in literature in 1936, and he taught at universities throughout the country.
Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963) wrote of his poetry: The greenhouse “is my symbol for the whole of life, a womb, a heaven-on-earth.” Roethke drew inspiration from his childhood experiences of working in his family’s Saginaw floral company. Beginning in 1941 with Open House, the distinguished poet and teacher published extensively, receiving a Pulitzer Prize for poetry and two National Book Awards among an array of honors. In 1959 Yale University awarded him the prestigious Bollingen Prize. Roethke taught at Michigan State College, (present-day Michigan State University) and at colleges in Pennsylvania and Vermont, before joining the faculty of the University of Washington at Seattle in 1947. Roethke died in Washington in 1963. His remains are interred in Saginaw’s Oakwood Cemetery.
I recently read that Theodore’s uncle’s house has problems with the roof and foundation and the organization that maintains the two houses is considering demolishing it. Unfortunately, I do not have the money to do the repairs, but I hope money can be found to save the home. You can read more about what is happening with the old house in an article by Review Magazine HERE
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