Bob Lind, Published March 03 2013
Lind: Is Foley’s poem, ‘A Letter Home,’ about North Dakota or Indiana?
It was quickly identified as “A Letter Home,” by James W. Foley, North Dakota’s poet laureate.
Here are more people who know the poem. But a warning: There is a controversy about it.
First, though, here’s a note from the woman who sent in the inquiry, Elaine Hofer, Fargo, who says Ruth Pueppke, Erie, N.D., sent her the entire poem (which was published in Neighbors in its entirety Jan. 16). “I was so happy to get it,” Elaine says.
“I also heard from a lady in Casselton (N.D.) who had the book of poems written by James Foley.”
Elaine, whose maiden name is Tupa, used to live in Larimore, N.D. Then she and her husband moved to Hope, N.D., and ran a grocery store there until moving to Fargo in the 1980s.
Another one who identified Foley’s poem was Ardis Rhoades, Coleraine, Minn., who says she had to memorize many poems in the days she attended Clifton District 50 school east of Fingal, N.D.
Ardis graduated from Fingal High School and Valley City (N.D.) State Teachers College. She’s been a Coleraine resident for 60 years.
Vernon Huseby, Fargo, says the column about the poem “brought back many good memories of my grade school days in a little country school in Ransom County (N.D.) in the mid-1920s and early 1930s.
“James Foley also wrote a poem called ‘Raggedy Mann’ and maybe others I don’t remember.”
Vernon Knudson, Cooperstown, N.D., who says he found the poem in a cowboy poetry file, attended school at Taylor, N.D., in the 1940s. “We also memorized a lot of poetry,” he says. “I can still recite quite a bit of it, all or in part.”
Two others who have the poem are Virgil Hans, Davenport, N.D., and Selma Black, Fargo. Selma, 97, was born and raised in Maddock, N.D., and came to Fargo in 1932.
Rogna “Ronnie” Hewitt, Moorhead, said that reading of the poem “rang a bell; I knew I had it safely put away, as I have a real passion for it, and the state described in the poem. I am a native North Dakotan and I spent most of my life there, so I share the emotions James Foley exhibited in the poem.”
Now comes the controversy. Wilbur Boldt, Fargo, says he memorized “A Letter Home” while attending Franklin Grade School in Jamestown, N.D. He says that, as noted here earlier, the poem was written at the request of H.C. Plumley, an editor of The Forum, for a special edition about North Dakota in 1906.
But Shirley Moe, Perham, Minn., writes that “Growing up in Renville County, N.D., I was fortunate to have a teacher who taught us to enjoy poetry and the beauty of nature in the area where we lived.
“When reading and memorizing ‘A Letter Home’ I was positive the author was talking about western North Dakota, which I dearly loved.”
But “much to my disappointment,” Shirley writes, she learned Foley was living in Indiana when he wrote the poem, thinking of his father on the East Coast.
“So apparently,” she says, “Foley was thinking of Indiana rather than North Dakota when he wrote the poem.”
So did Foley write about North Dakota or Indiana? Anybody out there know for sure?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org