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Aurora native sprinkles poetry gems throughout the U.S. and Germany

Ingrid Wendt taking a selfie.
Ingrid Wendt
Ingrid Wendt taking a selfie.

An Aurora native started her writing journey in the fourth grade. It’s a voyage that took her across the world. On the way, she commissioned others to join her.

Ingrid Wendt is a poet, editor, and educator. She wrote her first poem at Bardwell Elementary.

“I remember it because I hated it,” Wendt said. “I was so embarrassed because it was so stupid. And I knew I was stupid, but I thought I had to rhyme. And I remember the first stanza. I have a fourth-grade teacher who's very pretty, too.”

That’s where she said she got stuck. She pondered. Trying to figure out what word rhymed with too.

“It isn't any wonder that the boys all say woo, woo.”

Wendt shared that she thought all poems needed to rhyme. She said she started to resent rhyme and she stopped writing for a while. She later learned that she thought rhyme was needed because when she was in her cradle, her mother read Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses” to her.

“I loved the rhythms of poetry. They were in me from the very beginning. Growing up in Aurora, I was privileged, very privileged to be given piano lessons at age six. So, the music of poetry was very deep in me.”

But the next poem she wrote wasn’t until her sophomore year in high school. And this is when she learned that poetry didn’t have to rhyme. She penned a piece about a fixture in her hometown.

“I love the Fox River. I missed the Fox,” she expressed. “Anyway. And so, the world is in a terrible state, and an angel comes down and talks to this person walking along by the river in the fog.”

She left the Fox River and moved to Iowa for college. There she majored in English with the intent of being a short story author. But after she graduated, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.

She went to the University of Oregon to continue her education.

“I learned that MFA students -- I got a master's degree in creative writing -- that they went into teaching,” she said. “So, I started looking for a teaching job just as something to do. I didn't know that I could go to a big city and maybe start working for a publishing house.”

But she’s worked in many big cities, teaching children and other teachers about poetry. Wendt’s work even landed her in Germany. But Eugene, Oregon became her new home.

Her first teaching job was as a visiting professor at California State University, Fresno. After three years, she said she was ready for something else.

“I realized I needed more life experience to really be a good professor. And besides, by that time I was married, and I was pregnant,” she said. “It was a perfect time to, to stop for a while and take a break from academia.”

She spent three more years taking care of her family. Then, in 1974, she learned about The Poets in the Schools. This program was created by The Poetry Society. It teaches children how to write poetry and instructors how to teach the craft. Wendt got the job. She said she loved this new position.

“But I did get to teach children poetry that didn't necessarily rhyme. Open those eyes,” she explained. “And, more importantly, let them know that they themselves can be creative.”

Then the school budget in Eugene, Oregon where she lived changed and art funding was cut. Wendt said she was forced to travel further to do this work. This excursion birthed Wendt’s book “Starting with the Little Things.” After that she started speaking and doing teacher’s workshops.

“And then I was turning teachers on. So, they felt confident, because so many teachers don't think they can do it,” she said. “They're not poets, they can't teach poetry writing.”

Not only did Wendt ride the poetry wave outside of the house, but she also had a special someone who joined her on the ride at home: her husband, Ralph Salisbury. He was also a poet. The two were married 48 years before he died. Wendt said he was the first to read her poems.

“We were soulmates,” she added. “We were opposites in so many ways. But we saw the world the same way.”

Wendt has authored several books and received numerous accolades but there is something that she is very proud of.

“One of the highlights of my life, was getting an invitation to go back to Bardwell school to teach fourth grade classes. And that's when I wrote my very first poem.”

In 2008, Wendt was inducted into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame by one of her childhood friends, Nancy Hopp. Hopp said she wanted to do this because there was no one around that does everything that Wendt does.

“Yeah, amazing stuff. She's also a photographer. When she sends me notes, notecards, the words, the photography is hers. And I just think it's stunning.”

In addition to her writing, Wendt said she pours an equal amount of effort into her music. She sings in a choir and recently did so at Carnegie Hall.

Even after all her travels, Wendt said she would love to come back home and do more work in the Aurora schools, the place where her journey began.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.

Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.