Often the best ideas have modest beginnings. In 1958, a handful of people celebrated the anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s 100th birthday and the impact that the landscape that healed him and helped change the trajectory of his life.

This humble start has grown to over 60 years of celebrating and telling TR’s story in Medora, N.D. It spawned a tourism industry at the doorstep to the only national park that bears a person’s name – Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Now, after years of work by dedicated North Dakotans, Roosevelt enthusiasts and partners from near and far, the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is moving forward in a significant way.

The 66th Legislative Assembly took visionary action to invest in perpetuity $50 million, with the earnings to be used to support the operations and maintenance of the library only after $100 million in private dollars is raised. The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation (TRPLF) is now taking the baton.

To build on the support by the Legislature, I have assumed the role as chair of the TRPLF. In the last few months, the TRPLF board has been busy attracting a strong management team and will have exciting leadership news in the next few weeks. We are dedicated and poised to build a dynamic, world-class attraction, center of education, and place of restoration and engagement within the natural beauty of the North Dakota Badlands.

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Cathilea Robinett, chairperson of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation.
Cathilea Robinett, chairperson of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation.Submitted photo.

As with any significant project, we are building on the past to move into the future. The TRPLF board decided a presidential library honoring our 26th president was of national importance. Thus, the scope changed from a local effort to a more national vision to capture the life and legacy of this great man. Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “It is here that the romance of my life began.”

The expanded national vision came about from a collective realization that we could create “North Dakota’s Mount Rushmore” if we utilized natural assets of the Badlands, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the many organizations dedicated to the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt in Medora and engaged with other TR enthusiasts and organizations throughout the country. In fact, the Theodore Roosevelt Association, founded in 1919 to honor the memory and ideals of Theodore Roosevelt, wrote a letter encouraging a memorial to TR in the North Dakota Badlands, whether that be a presidential library or an expanded TRNP museum.

In a recent opinion column, it was inaccurately suggested specific board members required a site near the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This simply was not the case, as the decision to locate near the national park was approved by the TRPLF board based on numerous considerations, some of which are mentioned above.

While the work ahead will take TR’s “Bully” spirit of hard work, leadership and investment of time, energy, and enthusiasm of many individuals, we believe our dedicated board is up for the challenge. The collective decision of the TRPLF board to create a presidential library in the Badlands was approved in order to carry on his life and legacy in a place he cherished. Our board is grateful to the many individuals who have brought the library along thus far and to the legislative supporters for becoming partners in envisioning a greater future together.

Cathilea Robinett is chairperson of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation.