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Bob Lind, Published February 23 2013

Lind: Poem query leads to many citing former North Dakota poet laureate

A Neighbors reader had a question: What was the title of a poem she’d learned in school years ago, and who was its author?

The poem’s opening lines were:

“Like to come and see you, Daddy, and perhaps I will some day;

“Like to come back East and visit, but I wouldn’t care to stay.”

Neighbors ran her request. And you folks responded. And then some.

Many wrote in to pinpoint the poem’s title as “A Letter Home” and to report it was written by James W. Foley, who lived from 1874 to 1939 and who was named North Dakota’s poet laureate.

Thanks to many of you who researched Foley, here’s some information about him.

He attended school in Bismarck, briefly attended the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, returned to North Dakota and lived with his family at Medora, began writing both poetry and prose, and was hired as city editor of the Bismarck Tribune in 1892.

For a time he was the private secretary to North Dakota Govs. Elmore Sarles and Louis B. Hanna.

He moved to California in 1913 due to health reasons.

Many of you had comments about Foley and his poem.

Lois Minch, Fargo, says Foley taught in Medora. “I learned (this poem) in Harlem school, near Stirum, N.D.,” she writes.

Lillian Jacobson, Valley City, N.D., notes that Foley also wrote the poem “The North Dakota Hymn,” which was set to music by C.S. Putnam, director of the Gold Star Band of North Dakota Agricultural College, now North Dakota State University.

James and Joyce Holter, Fargo, have the poem in a North Dakota Department of Public Instruction publication titled “A New Supplement to the State Course of Study in Literature for the Elementary Grades of North Dakota.” The publication was printed in 1934 and reprinted in 1937.

Hildegarde Anderson, Valley City, also knows the state publication mentioned by the Holters, noting that the courses of study in the book were used by North Dakota schools, including rural and small town Class C schools, until the early 1960s when schools began consolidating and became Class B.

Hildegarde attended Sibley Trail School near Dazey, N.D., in the early 1930s, then Dazey High School for a year, graduated from St. Catherine’s School in Valley City and from Valley City State University. She taught in several North Dakota schools.

Oscar Kostad, Fargo, found the poem on the Internet. He says to go to Google, type “A Letter Home by James W. Foley,” then click “The verses of James W. Foley.”

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous says the poem was printed in her high school newspaper in Towner, N.D., in 1950.

Darlene Weshenvski, Tower City, N.D., says she memorized the poem when she was in the sixth grade and still has a hand-written copy of it.

Elaine Wold, Wahpeton, N.D., sent in the complete “Letter Home” poem (too lengthy to reprint here), adding that she memorized it while attending school at Dwight, N.D., in the late 1930s.

And why did Foley write the poem? Because The Forum asked him to.

Dennis C. Olson, Bismarck, who is retired after serving as librarian for Bismarck’s Century High School for 27 years, found in a North Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs publication that Foley wrote it for a Forum special immigration edition in 1906.

H.C. Plumley, who with Maj. A.W. Edwards founded The Forum in 1891 and became its manager, and who was Foley’s friend, asked Foley to write a poem for that edition. Foley complied with “A Letter Home.” He received $10 for his effort.

Dennis says the house where Foley lived in Bismarck now is on the grounds of Buckstop Junction, the pioneer town located in Bismarck.

Neighbors has many more messages about this poem. They’ll be included in future columns.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com

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