Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest
I first heard of Sue Boynton in 1975 or thereabouts from Sarah Hackler who was head of the Whatcom County Opportunity Council seniors program. “George, you have to meet her. She is a treasure.” So one day I went with Sarah to the nursing home where Sue Boynton lived and I made a new friend. At that time “Mother Boynton”, as I was asked to call her, was 95 years old. We talked about her life and her poetry. When I left she gave me a copy of a small book of her poems.
As a member of the Bellingham City Council I organized a Bi-Centennial activity in the old city hall celebrating service to the community by serving in elected office. For the occasion I invited President Ford to send a message and he did. I then invited Sue Boynton to read the message from President Ford to the audience. At the event she came forward to the microphone and instead of reading the President’s message she said she first wanted to read one of her poems and read “Three Things Abide” which was about one’s commitment to community service. Then she read the message from President Ford. She was not going to let this opportunity to read one of her poems in public to pass.
As I was teaching a class at WWU on community organizing I asked Mother Boynton if she would be willing to talk about how she organized PTA groups in Boston, 1895 to 1900. She said she would be delighted to do so. When I presented her to the class she stated that she had lied to me. She was not interested in talking about organizing PTA groups at the end of the last century but she desperately wanted to get out of that nursing home. She said that most of the residents there were dead but hadn’t fallen over yet. She had to get out to meet the young folks, full of energy and life. She asked the students if they would let her tell her story with photographs of her life. Of course they acquiesced with glee. I told Mother Boynton “The class is yours. Do what you want.”
She proceeded to show one photograph at a time from the pile that she had brought, tell its story, and quite often recite a poem that went with the photo. The photos were passed around the room as she talked. It was a “love in”. The students were enthralled by this amazing woman. When the period ended the students did something no other class did, they gave her a standing ovation. She left the room with tears in her eyes to return to her nursing home. [link to photo]
Years later, in January of 2006, this all came back to me with a bang when I read in the Bellingham Herald that Ethel Boynton Crook celebrated her 95th birthday in her nursing home. Ethel was one of Sue’s daughters who lived in Bellingham and became well known as a violin teacher and first violinist of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra for a number of years. I had an idea, that of creating a poetry contest in the county in honor of Sue C. Boynton, and took it to Ethel to see if the Boynton family would permit the contest to be named in honor of her mother and to see if the family would provide some funding for the project. [link] She agreed to my requests.
Then I had to find an entity to run the contest and submitted a proposal to the Bellingham Arts Commission [link] asking if they would organize and run the project. They turned down my request stating that the Arts Commission merely makes recommendations to the Mayor regarding the arts in Bellingham and does not run any projects itself. At that point I decided to call a meeting of the “shakers and doers” in the poetry field in Bellingham and see if they would be willing to take on the project. I was able to contact the following persons and we met to discuss the planned poetry contest. The persons that formed that first committee were Jim Bertolino, Anita Boyle, Susan J. Erickson, Robert Huston, Malcolm Kenyon, and myself. The contest has grown over the years, new members joined the committee, and others left but now, 13 years later the project is well and growing each year.
At the 2019 Awards Ceremony I made the following speech:
Hello my friends. It is now 13 years since I founded the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest. Once I had the permission of Ethel Boynton Crook, daughter of Sue Boynton, to use the Boynton name for a poetry contest I called a meeting of persons in the county who were involved in poetry. They enthusiastically picked up on the idea and formed this organization.
To all of those early members of the Board of Directors who shared my dream and helped make it real I give my heartfelt thanks. They have taken my original dream and have made a very successful cultural program out of it. To them and to all the volunteers who have worked on making the Sue C. Boynton contest one of the major cultural programs in Whatcom County I extend my warmest gratitude.
As I am now just a few weeks shy of being 89 years old and not in the best of health I want to ensure that the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest continues to play a vital role in the cultural activities of this county. If an officer of the organization will come forward I will present to them this check for $10,000 dollars.
My hope is that the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest will continue to generate an enthusiasm for poetry among the young members of our community for years to come and provide a venue for poets of all ages to present their works to the larger community.
Meanwhile if you want to keep up-to-date on the happenings of the Sue C. Poetry contest go to https://thepoetrydepartment.wordpress.com/. There you will find a most remarkable web site/blog dealing, not only with the Sue Boynton contest but with poetry in this corner of the world. S. Kleinborg has done a remarkable job in recording the history of the Boynton story since its founding days. We owe an incredible debt to her for sharing her talents in this way.
Feb 14 ltr to EBC re project and copy of document for Arts Commission
Feb 14 ltr to Arts Commission