With major new donor, Teddy Roosevelt Library to consider new site

Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation Board voted unanimously to empower its leadership to look into alternative sites for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, in light of a new, large donor.

Wally Goulet, the foundation’s CEO, described the situation as a “friendly takeover” during an online board meeting.

“When you have a donor of the potential size that we have, I liken it to a friendly takeover in the corporate world,” he said. “They get to at least call some shots on (possible locations).”

Goulet said board members had already established the Dickinson fairgrounds as a site for the presidential library.

“Because of the contingency of the large potential gift, we are asking the board to allow us to review site selection with these donors,” Goulet said. “We do not know if there will be a change in that site selection, but we need the flexibility to work with them. … This should not be taken as a change the site motion, it’s to allow us to inquire to this and other sites.”

Alternative sites include a location in the Badlands, a suggestion that Goulet had been fielded by the Theodore Roosevelt Association and that the unnamed potential donor was also favorable to.

Board members’ opinions were mixed in the Monday, Dec. 11, meeting. Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, expressed his support of the motion to empower Goulet and Chairman Bruce Pitts to look into alternative sites.

“I’m OK with this. Knowing the situation, I think we need to give the flexibility to do this,” Wardner said. “I’m not sure how all of this is going to play out, but I don’t think we have any option not to give the flexibility.”

Board member Niles Hushka voiced some concerns, saying he felt the board needs to establish a clear criteria regarding how it will decide on a site and who would do the selection work.

“I sat through this last process and watched the political flak we took from all directions,” he said. “I think it’s important to decide on not only the criteria, but also at least have some debate or discussion about the process. Last time we had public tours of the sites, we took public information on these. I’m not suggesting we do that (again), but I think as a board it is our job to establish the criteria and the process and I don’t think we have either at this point.”

Wardner agreed, but emphasized that giving board members flexibility is the right course.

“I just feel that with an opportunity for funding that could be substantial,” he said, “we need to look at this flexibility and make a decision February or March or whatever.”

Clay Jenkinson, a Roosevelt historian who has been with the project since the beginning, said that regardless of where the library ends up, it’d be a “shame” if they did not continue to work closely with Dickinson State University, which he said has been instrumental in getting them this far.

“I understand that approaches have been made to us about the need to consider an alternative site,” he said. “My own view is that this project began at DSU, its success has continued with association with DSU and my hope is that there will always be a very tight relationship with DSU.”

Jenkinson, a Dickinson native, said: “I have the greatest desire to see Dickinson flourish in every possible way. I’m looking on this set of deliberations and trying to keep an open mind, because …what I want most of all is for this project to succeed. … We’re all grateful to the city of Dickinson for its support in this project. We all have concerns about alternative sites, and success requires people to walk through an open door. We need to put it where the chances of visitation are … maximum.”

Jenkinson described the library as an undertaking of both national and international importance, and expressed confidence that Teddy Roosevelt would ultimately approve of its final location.

“This is going to end up in western North Dakota, precisely where Roosevelt would have wanted,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where it goes so long as it is a great source of pride.”

The board will be meeting with its various stakeholders, including the Theodore Roosevelt Association, and Dickinson State University, in January. Goulet said working closely with current stakeholders was another criteria the potential donor had given.

There may be future meetings before their next big meeting, which is scheduled for March.

The day following the meeting, a press release revealed that a new member had been brought on to the Board of Trustees, Serena Torrey Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt V. She’s the third new addition to the board this month, joining Cathilea Robinett, president of e.Republic, and Eric Washburn, sole proprietor of Windward Strategies LLC, who were elected Dec. 6.