A song of ‘Success’: Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir to perform new work based on late local woman’s poem

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Members of the Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir follow choir director Melissa Garcia as she conducts rehearsal at Helen Haddad Hall in Columbus, Ind., Monday, April 15, 2024. The choir will perform a song based off a poem called Success by Columbus resident Mrs. Will Roth. Her poem was published in The Republic on Oct. 18, 1962.

A late local poet whose work was featured on a “Poem Page” in The Evening Republican decades ago will have her words come to life when performed as a song by the Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir.

The poem “Success,” written by Mrs. Will Roth, was first published in the newspaper on Oct. 18, 1962, tucked away on Page 21 amid dozens of other submissions.

In a bit of kismet, best friends LeeAnn Starkey, composer-in-residence for the choir, and director Melissa Garcia were looking for some lyrics with a distinctive Columbus connection for a song for the choir to perform at the “Voices of Spring” concert set for 4 p.m. April 27 at Garden City Church of Christ.

Starkey writes five or six songs a year and wanted to do a special one for the Columbus choir.

At first their thoughts turned to architecture, but the Modernist connection just wasn’t clicking with song lyrics. So they went to the internet to find out about poets from Columbus.

And what turned up was The Evening Republican’s “Poem Page,” which was dedicated to “poetic efforts” of those contributing poems to the newspaper in commemoration of state poetry day in 1962.

There were poems about “Autumn’s Perfection” and “Halloween,” and “Candles” and “The Chilling Winter Rain.” There was even a tribute to “Free Loader Freddy the Rooster.”

And that’s when Starkey found the possibility of success … in a poem about halfway down the page on the far left, authored by Roth, and entitled, “Success.”

The composer noted she was looking for something of a certain length, with child-friendly text that could be memorized easily and a meter that had some musicality to it.

Starkey said the poem contained “such a wonderful life lesson for everyone, not just for children.”

It’s about the kindness day to day in your interactions — that’s the success — “the little things you do,” she said.

With the choir having a goal of learning teamwork and kindness toward each other, “this is really meaningful to the kids,” she said.

And most importantly, she hoped the young singers, numbering about 40 this year and ranging in age from third to ninth grade, would enjoy singing about this particular subject.

“Success” it was, she and Garcia believed.

But there was one hiccup before moving forward — the poem’s copyright. Starkey reached out to The Republic, a descendant of The Evening Republican, to find out if the newspaper would grant permission for it to be used.

The Republic agreed to allow its use, but also began a search for the author, or her family, in order to make sure they would also agree for the poem to become lyrics.

After finding Mrs. Will Roth’s obituary published in 1981, The Republic was able to locate her son James Roth, who resides in Columbus and who immediately granted permission for the poem to be used.

He and his wife Pam are hoping to attend the concert to hear the song that Starkey and the choir have created, directed by Garcia.

James Roth said he had no idea that his mother, Hazel Ruth (Boll) Roth wrote poetry, something he said he “didn’t see in her” as he was growing up. In those days, his mother was a homemaker and his father Will was manager and treasurer of the Citizen’s Building and Loan in Columbus.

The family lived at 2720 Washington St. in a home his parents built in 1940.

Republic records show Hazel was deeply involved in society events in Columbus, active in St. Peters Lutheran Church’s Women’s Missionary League and was president of the Bartholomew County Home Economics Club.

James Roth allowed that she was quite a good cook, known for her fried chicken and the best chicken gravy he could ever recall tasting.

Saying his mom could be tough on him, James Roth said the idea of her writing poetry when his father was at work and he was at school was surprising to him.

“At that time, in the ’40s and ’50s, parents just did not talk about their private lives with their kids,” he said.

With the poem, and its transformation into a song, he said it “gives me a differing look of her and it’s a change I welcome.”

James Roth said he had very little left of his mother’s belongings, many of them stored with other family members, and he has not gone though the items in a very long time.

He has agreed to give Garcia and Starkey permission to have “Success” formally published, which means other choirs around the globe can request to perform it in the future. Garcia noted that the children were thrilled that Starkey prefaced the work “to Melissa Garcia and the Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir” which will travel with the sheet music.

James Roth is hopeful the song will live on in his mother’s memory and with the children who perform it.