By Howard Dukes South Bend Tribune
A passage that Linda DeCicco wrote in a book about the Sophomore Literary Festival at the University of Notre Dame started her interest in the life of Kenneth Rexroth.
The poet, who died in 1982, is associated with poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who are all associated with the beat poetry scene in San Francisco.
As it turns out, Rexroth had a connection to South Bend that DeCicco noted in her book when she detailed something that took place when the poet read at the literary festival in 1973.
"John Matthias hosted him and had him over for dinner, and (Rexroth) points outside the window and says, 'I was born right over there,'" DeCicco says.
A former editor at The Tribune, she filed that one item from a history of the Sophomore Literary Festival away. However, she always wanted to return to Kenneth Rexroth and his upbringing in Michiana — the poet moved with his family to Elkhart and remained there before moving to Chicago when both of his parents died.
DeCicco, who recently retired from teaching at Riley High School, says she would run across things that reminded her of the unfinished project.
"One day I was at Barnes & Noble and I see this big book on Kenneth Rexroth and it says that he was from South Bend, and I said, 'How come nobody knows this? This is important,'" she says.
DeCicco says she decided to find the poet's childhood home, so she spent hours in the library going through microfilms and old city directories before finding a Charles Rexroth who lived in the 800 block of Park Avenue.
It turned out that Rexroth incorrectly identified the home as his childhood home during that 1973 reception at the home of John Matthias, DeCicco says. However, her determination to honor Rexroth eventually brought her to The History Museum, where she hoped to spark interest in mounting a Rexroth exhibit.
"The guy (in charge of) the archives was real super-interested, but then he left and it kind of dropped," she says. "Then nothing happened and life happened and nobody seemed interested in memorializing him. But I always knew in the back of my mind that when I retired — and this is my first year of retirement — that I was going to find a way to resume the effort."
A Tribune article about the Indiana Historical Bureau's effort to look for topics of statewide significance that can be honored with historical markers provided DeCicco with a way to restart her plans to honor Rexroth. The bureau is looking to erect additional markers across the state honor historically significant people, places and event as a part of the state's bicentennial.
DeCicco says she submitted an application to have a marker placed in front of Rexroth's childhood home, and will find out next month if her submission will be among the ones accepted. If her application is approved, the sign will be installed in 2017, but she will have to raise the estimated cost of $2,200. DeCicco says she will do a crowd-funding campaign if the bureau approves her request.
DeCicco also spoke to Paul Fields, the current homeowner who had previously expressed support, to see if he still supported the proposal.
"I think that history is important and that it's absolutely important that we put a land marker there if the state feels that he needs to be recognized."