Rita Dove, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, remembers long weekly phone calls with her mother, Elvira, who shared details of her own parents' lives in Akron.
Elvira Elizabeth Dove's memories helped shape some of the poems that would be included in Rita Dove’s 1987 Pulitzer-winning "Thomas and Beulah," a collection based on experiences of the poet’s maternal grandparents.
Elvira Dove died Feb. 1 at an Akron hospital where she was admitted the previous day. She was 94.
She had been living in her longtime West Akron home that she shared with her husband of 72 years, Ray Allen Dove.
"It's really a testament to my family who helped take care of her," allowing her to remain in the beloved family home for so long, Rita Dove said.
Dove, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, said Thursday that her mother encouraged her creative pursuits. She was an avid reader “who would quote Shakespeare while standing over the stove,” Dove said.
Dove recalled her mother and father in the living room, listening to radio plays created by the Dove children. The plays were broadcast through a microphone that her father had rigged from the kitchen.
Dove said she had already begun writing about her maternal grandparents, when she began the phone-call sessions to mine her mother's memory.
"The bond that we had ... she never asked to see the poems [ahead of publication] ... She had that trust that I was not going to violate her trust," Dove said.
Elvira Dove, an Akron native born April 14, 1924, graduated from West High School in 1941 at age 16. She had won a scholarship to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., “but her parents were against letting her go to the big city at age 16,” Rita Dove said.
Elvira Dove told a Beacon Journal reporter in 1988 that she had dreams of a nursing career, but at 16 was too young to attend the hospitals’ schools.
So she attended a local business college for a year and worked at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron and Akron City Hospital as well as at a dress shop in downtown Akron. She decided to forgo a nursing career in favor of one centered on her home and family.
Rita Dove, the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, said, “I look back and I see how much of her life she gave to us [children] to make sure that all four of us had a relatively unencumbered childhood.”
Both parents stressed education, and Rita Dove said as children that she and her siblings would go to their father, a chemist at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., with math and science homework questions. Questions concerning literature and other humanities would go to their mother.
Rita Dove said her mother “knew that education could just open up your life” and encouraged her children to do what she hadn’t done: go to college. All four children have degrees.
Elvira Dove was a lifelong member of Wesley Temple A.M.E. Church in Akron, where as a teenager she sang in the choir. She enjoyed gardening and traveling with her husband before her diabetes limited her activities.
In addition to her husband, Ray, and daughter Rita Dove (married to Fred Viebahn), she is survived by son, Ray T. Dove of Akron, and daughters, Robin (Nelson) Waynesboro of Atlanta and Rhonda (Chris) Harrison of Barberton, four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Memorial services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Stewart & Calhoun Funeral Home, 529 W. Thornton St., Akron. The family will receive friends from noon until 1 p.m. at the funeral home.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com.
529 West Thornton Street