The Story of a Hoosier Poet
Born March 16, 1913, on East Lisle Street in Kendallville, Indiana, Arthur Franklin Mapes grew up in the Sunnyside neighborhood near what is now East Noble High School. Mr. Mapes recalled writing his first poem, about the Spencerville Covered Bridge, at age 13. He found a passion for words.
On December 12, 1936, he married Ruth (Acker) Mapes (1918-1989). They had ten children, including two consecutive sets of twins. His family and a 33-year career as a machinist at Flint and Walling kept Mr. Mapes busy, but with the support of Ruth and his family, he kept writing poetry.
By the late 1950s, people began taking notice. Local civic groups used his poems during their meetings, teachers shared them with their students, and the media printed them and read them over the airwaves.
But it was Mr. Mapes’s optimistic tribute to the beauty and simplicity of his home state that earned him the most attention. Mr. Mapes wrote the poem “Indiana” in 15 minutes during a 1961 snowstorm. He sent it to Fort Wayne radio station WOWO, 1190-AM, where it was recorded and played on the air. The Men’s Garden Club of Fort Wayne lobbied for the poem to be adopted officially by the state.
The Indiana General Assembly adopted “Indiana” as the Official State Poem on March 11, 1963.
In March 1977, the Legislature again recognized Mapes with a resolution declaring him “Indiana’s Poet Laureate.” Mr. Mapes read his poem in both chambers of the Indiana Statehouse to standing ovations. (Indiana did not create an official poet laureate program until 2005.)
Among his other notable achievements, Mr. Mapes received the Golden Quill Award in 1961 and the International Association of Machinists Anniversary Award, for outstanding service to the community in 1963.
He was the 1966 Kendallville Citizen of the Year and the 1980 Older Hoosier of the Year, an award from the Noble County Council on Aging. He had three poems printed in the Congressional Record.
In 1980, he realized a lifelong dream with the publication of a hardcover, limited-edition volume of his poetry, Indiana Memories. The book is no longer in print but is available in many public libraries and from rare booksellers. Softcover poetry volumes also were published posthumously.
Mr. Mapes recognized his skill for rhyme as a God-given talent. He never had to look far for subjects — he was moved by the beauty of nature, his faith, and the people he met along life’s journey, such as “Sassafras John” Beight, a friend from childhood who sold sassafras roots. His poetry endures as a tribute to the experiences and memories that inspired it.
He died Jan. 4, 1986, and is buried in Lake View Cemetery, Kendallville.