Fox Valley poet 'saw with his soul,' inspired others to create

The Fox Valley arts community is mourning the death of Frank A. Rutledge, regarded as the "poet laureate" of Batavia's Waterline Writers and known for hosting open mics across the area, sharing his poetry and encouraging others to write and express themselves.

Rutledge, 56, died of natural causes Jan. 3, at his Aurora home. Remembrance services are planned for Jan. 19 at the Sugar Grove Public Library and Jan. 20 at the Waterline Writers group.

Friends recalled Rutledge, a former insurance executive, as a kindhearted man who was genuine and brought out the creative side in those he encountered.

"Everything on the outside was Frank's heart," said James Joseph, co-director of Waterline Writers and co-owner of The Book Shop in Batavia. "Frank's soul reached out from within. It came out in his writing. What Frank said, he did. What he believed, he lived. Frank not only felt with his soul but saw with his soul."

Joseph said Rutledge was not overly charismatic or self-promoting but had a knack for helping people who had an interest in writing and music to express themselves.

"He would labor with you. Whatever your passion was, Frank would do whatever he could to see you shine the brightest," Joseph recalled. "He could draw out that better side of you.

"Frank was all over the Fox Valley. He gave his life to what he loved."

Across the area, Rutledge could be found hosting open mics such as the "Harmonious Howl" at the Graham's 318 Coffeehouse in Geneva, along with events at the Sugar Grove Public Library and Limestone Coffee and Tea in Batavia.

His poetry style was described as closer to the spoken word than classical poetry, and he wrote about his personal experiences.

Remembrances flooded Rutledge's Facebook wall in the past week.

"I really admired his talent - he had a skill with words and it was a pleasure to hear him read those words," wrote Eric Dinse, who saw Rutledge at an open mic in Sugar Grove. "Yes, I respected him as an artist, but I also liked him as a person. Frank, may you find the peace that you have been seeking."

Rutledge played lead guitar and bass for a band called "Mother Tomato," started by Jose Gomez of Geneva. Gomez said he first met Rutledge at a "Harmonious Howl."

Gomez said the group planned to record an EP early this year and Rutledge's contributions went well beyond words.

"He wasn't just a poet; he was a facilitator. He offered the mic to everybody. He didn't turn anybody away," Gomez recalled. "He wanted people to follow their heart. He was a beloved person. You can see in the way that the community has come together."

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