Photo by Miss Karen
Article by Jeremy Evans

Like chocolate? How about beer? Ever thought of pairing the two together?

It may sound strange at first, but chocolate-and-beer tastings have been growing in popularity in recent years. Now the trend is coming to Saginaw, courtesy of the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation.

The event—featuring not just beer and chocolate, but wine, non-alcoholic drinks, live bluegrass by Blue Fescue, and a “mini-seminar” provided by Oppermann’s Cork ‘N’ Ale—will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Theodore Roethke Home Museum, 1805 Gratiot Avenue.

But the food-and-beverage pairings are not all that is unusual about Thursday’s event. The evening marks the first time that a large social event has been held in the house, said Kathie Marchlewski Bachleda, one of the event’s organizers. What’s more, it is likely the first time alcohol has been consumed on the premises in many decades.

The story behind that is an interesting one. Roethke would return to the house to write throughout adulthood, explained Bachleda, as the house was still the home of his sister, June (who lived there until her death in 1997). Unlike her brother, June eschewed alcohol. “Teddy was kind of a guy who was known to kick back a few,” said Bachleda, “but June would never allow him to drink in the house. So this is the first time that people have really raised a glass in the house.”

Roethke’s drinking preferences also played a role in the selection of a beer-and-chocolate themed night over the more typical wine-and-cheese mixer. “Roethke was more of a beer person,” said Bachleda, “and we want [the event] to match his personality.”

Thursday will be the first time that many in the community have had an opportunity to see the results of many recent renovations to the Roethke House. The Friends of Theodore Roethke have painstakingly restored the front room to its authentic 1920s state, going so far as to conduct chemical analysis of the paint and to refurbish an aged piano that once belonged to Roethke.

Thursday’s event also marks a more subtle change within the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation itself—a broadening of its activities from its traditional focus on education to include more fundraising.

Fundraising has become an imminent concern for the House, Bachleda said. Since its founding in 1998, the Roethke House has provided tours, presentations, poetry workshops, and picnics for individuals and for local school groups. These activities have been funded by grants—grants specifically earmarked for education activities alone. This has made the costs of renovations, as well as standard building upkeep costs, cumbersome.

“We have electrical issues, structural issues, and just the bills that need to be paid to maintain a home to meet, as well as a mortgage,” said Bachleda, so the Foundation hopes that this fundraiser will be the first of many successful events.

Other long-term projects remain on the Foundation’s slate as well, including the renovation of another house on the property, which the Friends hope to establish as a permanent museum and community center.  Yet all these activities, Bachleda noted, are for one common purpose: to create awareness about the House throughout the region, among students and adults alike.

“We want all students in Saginaw, and the whole Great Lakes Bay region, to be aware of Roethke’s legacy, and to know that this house is here for them,” Bachleda said.

The beer and chocolate tasting takes place on Thursday, September 16 at the Roethke House (1805 Gratiot Avenue, Saginaw) and lasts from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20. For more information, contact Kathie Marchlewski Bachleda at 989-280-6765.

© Jeremy Evans, 2010