Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 10, 2011

Lifelines: A 'thank you' to Glenn Ruggles

Poet Bard

---- — "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

All history is local.

Even what's going on in Iraq and Iran.

Maybe that's a twisting of the definition,

but if I was in Iraq

in a little village "¦or Israel, Lebanon or Afghanistan,

I'd have a tape recorder

doing local history interviews.

If you do it properly

it's a microcosm of the national

even the international scene.


It happened by accident.

I had these old blowup photographs

laid out on my desk

of Elk Rapids:

the lakes and boats,

old farmers and fishermen,

the women and children.

I didn't think my students

would care much,

but they started oohing and aahing,

"Mr. Ruggles, wow, is that neat."

Though they didn't know what it was "¦

they were entranced

by these visual scenes

of olden times

up in northern Michigan.

Thank you

Are the books I've done for this area

some kind of thank you? I've never

thought about it that way. I've always

been intrigued by history.


The sign of a healthy mentality

is when you look back and remember

good things,

even about the bad.


The days on the farm "¦I picture the view out across the bay,

and hiking down to Torch Lake.


The school was good for me.

The kids were good.

They might have thought of me

as a pest

or a pain in the neck,

but the worst I was ever called

was a "city slicker"

which was a misnomer.

We came from Macomb County

which was rural back then.


You write about something you know.

Plus there was a lot I didn't know

about this area and wanted to find out.


I love uncovering things

that have never been told.

Most of the people I've interviewed

have never had a chance to tell

their story.

I have a love for the little guy.

I don't interview many famous people

unless it's by accident.

The farmers and fishermen and people

up here are golden.

Their stories are gems.

Maybe I am saying thank you.

--Terry Wooten

Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 27 years. He is the creator of Stone Circle. Learn more about him at