Dole, Kassebaum Baker promote Eisenhower Memorial at State Fair

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole greets Kansas State Fair visitors while promoting a fundraising campaign for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole greets Kansas State Fair visitors while promoting a fundraising campaign for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington. The Wichita Eagle

For Jerry Van Osdol, seeing former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole at the Kansas State Fair was an emotional affair.

Van Osdol, who recently moved to Wichita, grew up in Russell and knew the Doles growing up.

Dole presented him with his Eagle Scout badge when Van Osdol was 16.

“I’ve just got to be careful because it’s not cool for a 63-year-old man to cry,” Van Osdol said before meeting Dole.

“That’s a familiar last name,” Dole told Van Osdol as he gripped his hand.

Van Osdol’s eyes got a little watery, but he held back the tears.

About a hundred people gathered at the Eisenhower Memorial booth at the Kansas State Fair on Saturday to see Dole and fellow former GOP U.S. Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker.

Dole and Baker, whom the fair billed as “Senate Old-Timers,” greeted people for about an hour and sat for the occasional selfie as well.

Dole even received a little kiss on the cheek from Joan Leighty, of Salina, who had brought her 1996 “Dole for President” sign along, referencing Dole’s campaign against the incumbent, Bill Clinton.

Leighty said he “put his cheek out” for her after he heard she was from Lindsborg.

“He was very sweet,” she said.

Dole and Baker, two Kansas senators who worked together on Capitol Hill for 18 years, sat next to each other in front of cardboard cutouts of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“I think some people actually think I’m Elizabeth Dole sitting here,” Baker said. “She’s so beautiful and I don’t know how to explain I have gray hair.”

The two were kicking off a fundraising drive to get the Eisenhower Memorial built in Washington, honoring the Kansas-raised 34th president and World War II Supreme Allied Commander.

Dole said he is very optimistic about being able to raise about $150 million to construct it.

That’s also the bet of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who was chosen as chairman of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission earlier this year after having been a commission member.

In a series of announcements last week, Roberts unveiled the names of high-powered supporters joining the effort, from actor Tom Hanks to former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Roberts praised the addition to the commission’s Advisory Council of “two U.S. Presidents, two former Cabinet Secretaries, and four former Senate Majority Leaders.”

“They understand the meaning and importance of the Eisenhower Memorial and have agreed to join our effort. Foremost among them are President George H.W. Bush – himself, a heroic and highly decorated World War II veteran – and President George W. Bush. Together, they exemplify the cross generational aspect of this important effort,” said Roberts.

Dole, 92, was recently named finance chairman of the campaign for the Eisenhower Memorial to jumpstart private fundraising, which has lagged as Congress has cut funding for the commission and eliminated construction funding for the project.

“We just decided to forget (Congress) and go ahead and try to get it built while some of us might be around for the dedication,” Dole said.

The memorial, designed by Pritzker-winning architect Frank Gehry, has been a lightning rod for criticism because of its large unusual metal tapestries intended to depict the Kansas landscape. There is now one large tapestry alongside two bas reliefs of scenes depicting Eisenhower as commander and as president, with a statue of him in the middle of the “memorial core” as a West Point cadet.

After Gehry made modifications to the design and eliminated some of the tapestries, the design cleared final approvals from agencies that oversee monuments and buildings on the National Mall.

The memorial is to be located on a rectangular tract across the street from the National Air and Space Museum.

But critics are keeping up the fight against the memorial, even after the design cleared its final hurdles.

“I don’t think Bob Dole and Tom Hanks and the others have ever seen the design,” said Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society. “It’s ugly and grandiose and the architect was chosen in an undemocratic process.” The competition was limited to licensed architects.

The U.S. House, at least, has been on the side of the critics who want a re-do of the design. In a funding bill beginning in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1, the House Appropriations Committee has called for elimination of all funding for the Eisenhower Commission and the firing of the current staff. The U.S. Senate version of the appropriations bill continues the commission at its current level of funding for $1 million but does not include construction funding. Congress is working on reaching agreement on funding for the entire government before the deadline.

The Eisenhower family has also been a major player and is refusing to support fundraising efforts for the Gehry design.

But Roberts is banking that the country’s statesmen, like two former secretaries of state, James Baker and Colin Powell, signing up for the memorial will have some impact.

“Secretary Baker and General Powell have distinguished themselves in their broad and lengthy service to our nation. As Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, White House Chief to Staff, and as a United States Marine, James Baker has demonstrated time and again that public service comes first,” said Roberts.

“Colin Powell served as a young officer in Vietnam and went on to become a four-star general, and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and along the way he served as a White House Fellow and National Security Advisor. After his retirement from the Army, he continued in public service as Secretary of State.”

Other prominent former lawmakers who have joined up: former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Bill Frist, R-Tenn., George Mitchell, D-Maine, and Trent Lott, R-Miss.

“We’ve got a powerful group of people,” Dole said. “We’ve got to raise a lot of money, but we did it with the World War II Memorial – we raised $170 million, and we need about $150 million for this one.”

“We’re going to get it done.”

Reach Matt Riedl at 316-268-6660 or mriedl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RiedlMatt.

Reach Maria Recio at mrecio@mcclatchydc.com. Follow her on Twitter: @maria_e_recio.

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