The members of the planning team for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library were all in the same place at the same time for the first time this week.
The team spent time together in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, retracing the former president’s steps through the Badlands, as well as sitting down and planning various aspects of the library and museum, such as what stories they want to tell about Roosevelt.
Cybelle Jones, with Gallagher & Associates, a planning and design firm in Silver Spring, Md., said her team has experience with presidential libraries including the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, Texas; the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., and the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y.
“We’re big believers that cultural tourism can really drive the economy of communities and really draw people,” she said. “That’s exciting to look at the university and national park and how that synergy develops to really drive tourism and get people to be engaged with the story of Theodore Roosevelt because it seems really relevant today.”
While Jones’ firm has helped design other presidential libraries in the past, she said this one is different because of the amount of time that has passed since Roosevelt was president. She said sometimes direct, living family members may want certain stories to be told or not told.
“Because Theodore Roosevelt lived so long ago, we have a lot of freedom I think interpretively,” she said of the the president who served from 1901 to 1908. “He’s a complex individual. … People wouldn’t necessarily agree with him (today), but we want to make that a part of the dialogue about how things have changed since he lived until today.”
Roosevelt spent time in what is now Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the 1880’s, he is famously quoted as saying he “would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”
The library foundation recently hired Wallace R. “Wally” Goulet, Jr., to serve as chief operating officer for the organization. He will begin his duties on Sept. 1, 2017.
Goulet is a retired attorney who most recently served as the vice president and general counsel of National Information Solutions Cooperative in Mandan. His decades-long career includes extensive experience as a general practice lawyer in trial and business law, as well as general counsel for numerous companies and cities. He has a large background in executive management and business development.
As COO, Goulet will be responsible for the overall operations of the library foundation. Duties include establishing staffing, infrastructure, policies and procedures to ensure that the corporation is run ethically, legally and efficiently.
Goulet said he has been following the project for the last year, his wife also does some legal research for the project, so it has been on his radar for awhile.
“I think it’s very significant to North Dakota and I’m anxious to be involved,” he said. “… It’s a rare situation when you have a presidential library that almost opens into a national park, so it’s a greater experience than going to a library or a museum, you have the outdoors that are also tied in with this.”
Jones said over the next few months they will spend time figuring out what the story of Theodore Roosevelt will be and what they want the guest experience to be. After that they will talk with the architects to help bring that vision to life.
“We’ll kind of go away and come up with some concepts and then reconnect with the team and present those,” she said. “It’s really a back-and-forth process.”
Goulet said it has been good to form a bond with everyone on the team and get to know them with face-to-face interactions this week, rather than just talking to them on the phone.
“Having a chance to sit down and visit with folks and to understand their vision of the project, what excites them about the project was just amazing,” he said. “We have an awful lot of talent being brought to bear and people with experience in these types of things. … To see what’s being brought to the table for this project is very exciting.”