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From the Hawks’ Nest: Ushering in a new era for the DSU Theodore Roosevelt Center

“From the Hawks’ Nest” is a monthly column by Dickinson State University President Steve Easton

Steve Easton.jpg
Dickinson State University President Steve Easton, author of the monthly column “From the Hawks’ Nest”

For some time, Dickinson State University (DSU) has had a strong program related to Theodore Roosevelt. Due to the pioneering efforts of the DSU Theodore Roosevelt Center (TR Center) founders, the substantial groundwork led by these pioneers, and the generosity of DSU supporters, we are now able to invest even more into these efforts.

“Believe you can, and you are halfway there.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Over two decades ago, former DSU president Lee A. Vickers; his wife, Deanna; and humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson envisioned DSU programs showcasing the impact southwest North Dakota made on young Theodore Roosevelt. One key program has been a digital research and archive facility devoted to Roosevelt, DSU’s Theodore Roosevelt Center.

The TR Center has been led from its inception by farsighted project manager Sharon Kilzer. Working with Jenkinson, DSU faculty, administrators, and state legislators, she implemented, cemented, and grew the vision of an unparalleled digital research facility. Kilzer shared the vision, working hard and successfully—often behind the scenes—on the monumental task of making Roosevelt’s life and letters available to the world from the campus of DSU. All of us—especially those who will take her mighty TR efforts into DSU’s future—owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt

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The TR Center now hosts a world-class, electronic hub of Roosevelt research. Anyone, anywhere with access to the internet can peruse Roosevelt documents. Today, the TR Center is internationally recognized as the cornerstone of Roosevelt scholarship. It currently boasts over 70,000 published documents related to TR and hosts a popular TR Symposium, thanks to Kilzer’s skillful oversight.

DSU alumna Melani Lowman Walton; her husband, Rob; and Dickinson entrepreneurs Dennis and Vaune Johnson and have been long-time supporters of this vision to preserve TR’s legacy of leadership. Both the Johnsons and the Waltons (through the Rob and Melani Walton Foundation) have made generous donations to create two endowed chairs that will contribute to Theodore Roosevelt studies at DSU.

“Dare mighty things.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Before leaving for missionary work, Kilzer is overseeing a series of key changes. She is directing the finishing touches of DSU’s Pulver Hall as they relate to the TR Center, which will soon be relocated to the newly renovated site, a place for scholars to gather, research, and discover. The new TR Center space includes a homage to Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill office, a research archive, a museum space, living quarters for the Theodore Roosevelt Honors Leadership Program students, apartments for visiting scholars, and an audio and video production studio.

Last month we announced big developments with the leadership in this area as construction wraps up on campus. With a freshly updated space, comes the opportunity to study with leading scholars that we hope to attract and hire in the coming months. DSU recently announced the opening of three complementary positions which will allow the institution to consolidate its role as the leading center of Theodore Roosevelt studies in the United States, to revitalize its history major, and to claim a place at the forefront of history education in the West. These positions are the Melani and Rob Walton Endowed Chair in Theodore Roosevelt Studies, the Dennis & Vaune Johnson Endowed Chair in U.S. History, and the Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center.

It’s our goal that working together, the successful applicants will help recruit new students to DSU, build and maintain a significant research profile for the university, energize the campus environment around Theodore Roosevelt’s unique place in history, and highlight Roosevelt’s importance to the Little Missouri River region and to the national political landscape.

The Walton Chair and the Johnson Chair will give DSU a leading role in critically analyzing the life and career of Theodore Roosevelt. Both positions require an understanding of and a commitment to original research and publication, undergraduate student success, and fruitful partnership with local, regional, and national stakeholders.

The director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center will continue the important work of digitizing historic documents connected to Roosevelt and his world. This position serves as an ambassador for the project, the coordinator of the annual TR Symposium, and the lead in outreach to libraries, archives, museums, universities, and other invested entities.

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These positions include strategic opportunities to collaborate with the nearby Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library (slated to open in 2026), involvement or curation of DSU’s newly remodeled exhibit space in Pulver Hall (site of a small-scale TR museum and archives), connection to growing opportunities in Dickinson and Medora (including Theodore Roosevelt National Park), and support for Dickinson State’s evolving dual mission status. Together, this energetic and enterprising team will bring DSU as-yet-undreamed-of ideas and opportunities that will benefit the entire region.

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