Poet Merle Mollenkopf's name and words are on the lips of many in the Kent art community today.
Mollenkopf, 78, died this week after battling esophegeal cancer.
Friends have shared images and memories on Facebook the past 24 hours since word of his death started to spread.
"He was an encyclopedia of poems," fellow Kent poet Maj Ragain said of his friend. "He was full of poems."
Click here to read about how Mollenkopf's poems are preserved on audio recordings.
Ragain and Mollenkopf met at the start of open poetry readings in the early 1980s at what then was Brady's Cafe, now Starbucks, at the corner of Lincoln and Main streets.
Mollenkopft was a fixture there, recalls Brady's Cafe owner Bonny Graham Esparza.
"He was there all the time," Esparza said. "He was quite the character. He was kind of like the grandfather who always had some advice and was opinionated."
A construction worker by trade, Mollenkopf helped build some of the earlier dormitories on the Kent State University campus.
Later in life he worked at a steel rendering plant in Streetsboro.
It wasn't until a freak accident in 1981 when Mollenkopf was struck by lightning on the golf course that poetry really became the foundation of his world.
"His memory was wiped clean," Ragain said. "He retrained his synapses, restored his memory, by memorizing Robert Frost poems."
He became a regular performer in Kent and throughout the region by reading poems — many from memory — at public events.
Mollenkopf earned the unofficial title of Kent's Poet Laureate.
"I think it was never official, but I think it was by consensus because he was so visible in the community of poets," Ragain said. "He knew everybody and showed up everywhere.
"Poetry was his life," he said. "It was the way he gave meaning to his life by anchoring himself in that great oral tradition."
Each year at Kent's Art in the Park festival Mollenkopf served as a sort of master of ceremonies by reading poetry in between artists on the main stage. And he walked throughout the festival as part of the event's strolling poets.
Like the many artists there, Mollenkopf himself was an attraction, said Nancy Rice, Kent Parks and Recreation supervisor.
"It’s huge for us to lose him," Rice said. "He’s just going to be missed so much. He was an inspiration to so many people."
Rice said she had been in the Kent Post Office today waiting in line to mail out applications for this year's Art in the Park — which coincidentally feature Mollenkopf's photograph — when out of the blue she started to think of him.
Ten minutes later, Standing Rock Cultural Arts Executive Director Jeff Ingram called her to share the news of Mollenkopf's death.
"And I don’t know what triggered me to think of him," she said. "It was the most bizarre thing. Ten minutes later Jeff (Ingram) was calling me to tell me."
Most recently, Mollenkopf was an audible and visible opponent to the eviction of hundreds of seniors from the former Silver Oaks Place retirement complex near Kent State.
Friends say he wasn't afraid to speak out against what he saw as injustices in the world.
And he often relished the little things in life — like coffee and cigarettes.
Esparza recalled a time, before statewide smoking laws, when she considered making the first floor of Brady's Cafe non-smoking.
"He would sit down stairs," she said. "He would always smoke a cigarette. At one point I tried to make the downstairs non-smoking and he wasn’t very happy about that."
Ragain said he expects there will be some kind of memorial service so his fellow artists can honor Mollenkopf, but a date hasn't been set.
Rice, too, expects they will organize a tribute to Mollenkopf at this year's upcoming Art in the Park.
"I’ll miss the guy," Ragain said. "But I had a lot of good years with him. He had 77 years in his own life. I don’t know how you could ask for much more.
"He relished his life," Ragain said. "He enjoyed his life."