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Dyer-Ives founder John R. Hunting reflects on 50 years of Kent County poetry

Though the Dyer-Ives foundation closed its doors in 2016, the poetry competition it sponsored continues to recognize excellence in Kent County poets.
John R. Hunting, founder of the Dyer-Ives Foundation

John R. Hunting, founder of the Dyer-Ives Foundation /Used with permission of John R. Hunting

Remarks and Tribute to John R. Hunting

Grand Rapids Public Library, Main Branch

Tuesday, June 5th

6:30-8:30 pm

Virginia Reno Ives, grandmother of John R. Hunting

Virginia Reno Ives, grandmother of John R. Hunting /Dyer-Ives Foundation

Grace Dyer Hunting, grandmother of John R. Hunting

Grace Dyer Hunting, grandmother of John R. Hunting /Dyer-Ives Foundation

The former Dyer-Ives Foundation offices no longer bustle with staff, but the space continues to thrum with an energy engendered by decades of dynamic philanthropic activity. A large conference table still holds court in the central meeting room, and the walls play host to a plethora of mementos, foremost among them the portraits of founder John R. Hunting’s two grandmothers, Grace Dyer Hunting and Virginia Reno Ives. As a young philanthropist, Hunting preferred not to center himself in the foundation’s image, an instinct reflected in his subsequent dedication to providing nimble and intuitively ambitious support to a vast array of fledgeling grassroots efforts.

This instinct is certainly at play when I sit down with Hunting to discuss the history of Dyer-Ives. Inclined to down-play his own roll, he chooses instead to highlight the contributions of other staff members and collaborators who helped make the foundation and its many projects a reality. Even his reflection upon his own life in philanthropy seems fueled more by the incidental than the aspirational.

“This money was just piling up, and I didn’t need it,” he shrugs. Initially founded to support the Kentfields and ITM Academies, which were designed to combat delinquency and keep marginalized and at-risk youth in local schools from falling through the proverbial cracks, the Dyer-Ives Foundation went on to work with community organizers across the board in order to fund start-up efforts spanning a multitude of causes. When Hunting’s childhood friend, Grand Valley professor James B. Allen, floated the idea of a poetry competition, Hunting was all for it.

“I don’t read a lot of poetry, truth. I wrote a little in college. But I know poetry’s important.” Hunting reflects. Then his characteristically humble nature steps in. “I figured if he was interested in running the contest, I’d give him the money. I had nothing to do with it – it was all in the hands of the poet running the contest.”

The competitions boasts a rich portfolio of past judges, and helps uplift and encourage local poets by not only publishing their winning work, but also by selecting preliminary judges from among the local community. Its rather simple yet brilliant structure is derived with the utmost attention to enriching the talent fostered by the West Michigan poetry community.

“It’s kind of stunning that it’s still going on,” Hunting says of the competition. “It took care of itself. Poets love poetry; Christine [Krieger] is a perfect example, you know, she cares. I wish a lot of our projects did as well,” he quips.

As I’m peppering him with questions on poetry and philanthropy, Hunting suddenly interjects.

“I should add one thing,” he ventures. “I don’t write poetry, but I do write light verse.” Light verse is a style of poetry, often pun-laden and rife with word-play, which attempts to highlight the humorous characteristics of its given subject. “My father had a tradition in the family – which his father actually started – of light verse for every occasion,” Hunting explains. “Every Thanksgiving we’d put our names in a pile, and then we’d have to draw names and give a funny present in light verse.”

It’s clear he feels this light verse tradition isn’t quite real poetry. To be fair, more than a few journal editors would agree. But there’s something to be said for the instinct toward poetry; for its tenacity and longevity, for the way it tugs – in whatever form – at the soul.

As we wrap up our conversation, Hunting chimes in with something he’s forgotten to mention.

“When I lived in New York, on the upper West side, there was a health food store I walked by, and there was this sign, it said: poetry lessons available. Well, I recognized the name, and she had a list of all her background, studied here, studied there. And at the bottom of the list it said: Winner, Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition. On Broadway! So I thought that was quite gratifying.”

A tribute and remarks by John R. Hunting will take place on Tuesday, June 5th during the Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition 50th Anniversary Celebration, at the downtown branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

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