Our view: Even more resolute in library plan

Herald pull quote, 10/22/19

Maintain a tight grip on the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. That’s what we suggested nearly a year ago, when Gov. Doug Burgum was pushing a proposal that would fortify Roosevelt’s already strong legacy in North Dakota.

The proposal is the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, an idea that gained traction at the state Legislature. During the most recent session, legislators OK’d $50 million in an endowment fund, provided another $100 million can be raised in private dollars.

Back then, it seemed almost like a pipe dream. Now, 10 months later, we have heard more about the work that is going into the project and feel more confident of its success. Too, we are resolute in our hope that the state can more firmly keep as much about Roosevelt as possible within state borders – in this case, at or near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Why our reinvigorated interest?

It comes after an extended visit with Ed O’Keefe, the library/museum’s newly hired CEO. O’Keefe is a Grand Forks native who has been working in media on the East Coast. He also is an author and has done extensive research on Roosevelt. O’Keefe’s combined experiences – a North Dakotan, extensive media experience, a Roosevelt scholar, a current resident of New York, Roosevelt’s home state, and where much of this work must take place – should provide backers with confidence as they embark on getting this project rolling.


It would be a tourist destination. Presidential libraries elsewhere bring in thousands of tourists, from roughly 440,000 annually at the Ronald Reagan library in California to 44,000 at the Herbert Hoover library in Iowa. The Theodore Roosevelt library, located in the Badlands, certainly would be a draw. That’s important.

Yet O’Keefe’s insistence that the library and museum would not just be a tourist destination but a place for “scholarly exploration” is propitious. Equally important is O’Keefe’s dedication to openness in the process and his interest in holding community meetings in Medora, as well as his acknowledgement that Roosevelt’s life story isn’t entirely one worthy of all-out glorification but one that has “rough spots.” O’Keefe said the library and museum will be an opportunity to give full context to Roosevelt’s life.

O’Keefe further convinces listeners when he says the lessons of Roosevelt’s life are relevant in today’s America.

“They are hallmarks of everything we are talking about and experiencing now,” O’Keefe told the Herald. “I think if you can leverage the opportunity to look at a historical figure that has been largely put into sainthood and understand the contextual times in which he or she lived, you can learn more.”

A Roosevelt library and museum in western North Dakota would be a great draw for tourism and would further connect Roosevelt’s legacy with his adopted state. That’s a given.

But the backers’ firm belief that this will be more than just a tourism stop – and will be a place to truly explore the president’s fascinating life and legacy – pushes this project over the top.

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