Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 10, 2011

Lifelines: A 'thank you' to Glenn Ruggles

"When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so old I cannot remember anything but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it."--Mark Twain

Glenn Ruggles told me, "I was fourteen and crying. I had to leave all my buddies down in Macomb County. I hated school. I was skipping classes, and was a terrible student. Coming to Elk Rapids changed my life.

"Elk Rapids was a small school. The curriculum was not too complicated, but I had some good teachers. I fell in love with learning. For this reason I had a passion for my bad students."

Glenn received a master's degree in history from the University of Detroit, and taught history for 35 years at Walled Lake Central High School. After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the riots in Detroit, he started a Black History class.

For that the Ruggles family had a cross burned on their lawn. It doesn't take a lot of courage to terrorize a family with small kids.

Besides being an award-winning teacher, Glenn Ruggles' magnum opus has been collecting oral histories around the state and Elk Rapids area. I met Glenn in 1983 when Stone Circle was just getting started. He became our advocate, and along with poet Max Ellison, changed the direction of my art.

Through Glenn's friendship and influence I became extra sensitive to the spoken voice. I started to hear poetry coming out of conversations. One voice led to another.

I created a writing workshop teaching kids to talk about memories before they write what they say in free verse. Out of that grew the Elders Project.

Ruggles is a legendary figure in Michigan history circles. On Sept. 23 at the 137th Annual State History Conference in Traverse City, Glenn was awarded "A Lifetime Achievement Award." He received two standing ovations.

Ruggles' nine books of preserved voices and photo histories are a major contribution to the state. Three years ago I turned the tables and interviewed him. These poems are samplers.

Good accident

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