Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library once-in-generation opportunity for North Dakota

You can visit the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It only costs $7 to get into both the Bill Clinton library in Little Rock, Ark., and the Gerald Ford library in Ann Arbor, Mich.

These presidents each had their faults, yet they still have libraries to honor them and serve as historical research sites.

Somehow, Theodore Roosevelt — a man whose face is on Mount Rushmore and is considered one of our greatest leaders — is among the American presidents without a library.

The North Dakota Legislature has tasked Dickinson State University with changing that.

If our government wants to spend part of its newfound wealth on something that is actually going to benefit the state long after oil becomes an afterthought, a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is one project we should all be able to get behind.

Unlike a road or a sewer system, a library — especially a presidential library — can endure and enlighten for generations, not to mention generate an untold amount of indirect revenue for the state.

Last week, Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, spent a day with the library’s planners and said even though “it’s bigger than what it was projected to be,” he’s convinced the Legislature can get on board with the project.

It absolutely should.

The state has millions to spend and it needs to put some of that money toward more than just infrastructure for the Oil Patch, special interest group dream projects or into its proverbial mattresses.

In fact, with a project like this, it isn’t a bad idea to think even bigger.

If the Roosevelt presidential library planners can raise $3 million in private funds, the Legislature says it would grant $12 million toward its construction. But really, that is a drop in the bucket of what’s available and falls far short of what should be granted.

North Dakota has the ability to get this library built. It needs to think seriously about committing more funds to this project if it is going to move forward.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. In North Dakota, we like to be as conservative as we can with major projects. Most of the time, it works great. We don’t overdo things and, usually, less turns out to be more.

That isn’t the case when it comes to a presidential library. That’s something you don’t skimp on. In a state North Dakota’s size, a Roosevelt library would stand apart from every other attraction this state has to offer.

Legislators must go into this next session understanding exactly what a Roosevelt presidential library would mean to this state and to the generations that come long after they are gone.

After all, this wouldn’t be some public library. It would be a destination where generations of tourists, scholars and students would come from all over the world to read and learn about Roosevelt, after which they’d head out to the Badlands and visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The potential tourism dollars that could be generated by the library makes it worth more than a $12 million grant.

The Legislature also needs to understand that without North Dakota, this will never get done.

Clay Jenkinson, one of the leading authorities on Roosevelt and a humanities scholar for DSU’s Roosevelt Center, said even though 26th president hailing from New York, that state has no plans to create any sort of presidential library for him.

“If there were another one, we wouldn’t be doing it,” Jenkinson said.

That’s why North Dakota’s leaders need to make sure this gets done. If we don’t, it’s apparent no one else will.

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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