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More for Theodore: City of Dickinson gives Roosevelt Center $8M

Press Photo by Nadya Faulx The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, seen here on Thursday, will expand into a full presidential library after the City Commission approved a $3 million pledge Monday, in addition to a $12 million award from the state.

He was a two-term president, and the youngest ever to be inaugurated; an accomplished hunter and a well-travelled intellectual who spent time in Africa and Europe.

However, Theodore Roosevelt said he was perhaps most shaped by his experiences as a young rancher in the North Dakota Badlands.

As Roosevelt himself reportedly said, “I have always said I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

It is only fitting that a presidential library in his honor is being developed for the Dickinson area, funded in large part by a $12 million award from the state and a recently committed $8 million pledge from the City of Dickinson.

The City Commission approved $3 million up front and another possible $5 million for the next few years at its meeting Monday, providing a boost to a project that’s been at least eight years in the making.

The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University will be expanded into a full presidential library, bringing together at least 40 books and 150,000 letters penned by Roosevelt, along with countless cartoons and other artifacts documenting his life.

The center’s archive currently exists online and in a corner of DSU’s Stoxen Library, representing just a small fraction of what Theodore Roosevelt Humanities Scholar Clay Jenkinson said will be an “infinitely deep archive” of the 26th president’s life.

Jenkinson said he credits the technological breakthrough of digitization with enabling the Theodore Roosevelt Center to collect the artifacts, now scattered as far away as the Library of Congress, National Parks Service locations and the Harvard University Library.

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 designated that presidential records become the public property of the U.S., but records belonging to presidents prior to the legislation can remain in the hands of private organizations.

“It would be impossible to create a Theodore Roosevelt library anywhere with all the original documents,” Jenkinson said. “No one would give them all up.”

He said he was on a hike in the Badlands when he realized, “Oh, we can use electronic digital copies.”

The center currently has about 21,000 documents in its archives, with more being added every day. The planned library would bring together physical artifacts and interactive kiosks, Jenkinson said, where visitors can delve deep into the collection and download the digital content or email it to themselves.

“There’s no end to what you can explore if you want to,” he said.

The 2013 North Dakota Legislature gave the center until June 30, 2015, to come up with $3 million in non-state funding for a free-standing library and museum.

At Monday’s city commission meeting, Commissioner Klayton Oltmanns said the pledge was an important first step to support the library, adding it will have a huge impact on the community, state and the college.

The library could have been developed elsewhere — possibly in New York, where Roosevelt was born in 1858, was elected governor in 1898 and died in 1919.

Roosevelt came to North Dakota for the first time in 1883 and it became “his second home, his spiritual home,” Jenkinson said.

“I’ve thought for a long time,” Jenkinson said. “If there were ever going to be a Roosevelt museum or a Roosevelt library, it was going to be in western North Dakota.

From the national park in his name to the wildlife refuges he established as president, Roosevelt’s presence and legacy in North Dakota are very large,” Jenkinson said.

“It makes perfect sense for us to do (the library) here,” he said.

Even as a digital collection freely available to anyone with an Internet connection, the library will be a tourism and economical benefit, he added.

“(It) doesn’t require a single person to step foot in Stark County,” he said, “but people will be so eager to see what we’ve done and see the Badlands, it will automatically be one of the most important cultural places.”

Museum design firm Hilferty & Associates of Athens, Ohio, estimated the library could bring as many as 150,000 visitors each year.

“It has to be really beautiful to do that,” Jenkinson said, adding that the center will need at least two or three times as much funding in order to build such a successful facility.

Now that the center has met the state’s challenge of securing $3 million in funds, the next steps will be to finalize designs for the library and expand the center’s four-person staff to accelerate the digitization process, project manager Sharon Kilzer said.

“The building of the building is going to be the big priority for the next few years,” she said, as is the task of raising additional funds from public and private donors.

“We are really confident that there are many people interested in Roosevelt who will be excited about the prospects here,” she said.

Jenkinson said the library is as much about highlighting Roosevelt’s legacy in North Dakota as it is exploring North Dakota’s impact on Roosevelt.

“Up ‘til now, Theodore Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands has been seen as such a colorful group of adventures,” he said. “That’s sort of just one side of him. It was transformative for him; it changed how he saw life. Changed his character, his identity.

“We want to explore that — not just use it as a marketing tool, but actually explore what had happened.”

Jenkinson said the center has about 15 to 20 years’ worth of work ahead to digitize the entire collection of Roosevelt artifacts, and more documents are being discovered or re-discovered all of the time.

Several sites are under consideration for the future library. Funds for the project will likely be generated by the sales tax and hospitality tax.