Skip to main content

A Message from the CEO

Edward F. O'Keefe

Chief Executive Officer

Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation

There are two questions I repeatedly encounter about 
this ambitious project: Wait, Theodore Roosevelt doesn’t have a presidential library?, and why North Dakota?

My family has been in North Dakota since the Dakota Territory became a state so let me explain. North Dakota is the fulcrum of the hero’s journey in T.R.’s almost unbelievable life story.

Roosevelt came to Dakota in September 1883 to hunt buffalo, and left having invested $14,000 in cattle and a ranch. Just a few months later, on February 14, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt’s wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, and mother, Mittie Roosevelt, died on the same day in the same house. T.R. was devastated, writing famously in his diary, “The light has gone out of my life.”

Depressed, T.R. finished up his third term as a New York assemblyman, and fled to the Badlands in western Dakota to mourn and recover. T.R. met people who were not like him. He learned the value of hard work worth doing. He sat under the stars, appreciated nature and loneliness in the vast, open space. He lived the strenuous life, and in doing so found reason to go on living.

T.R. said, of course, that he never would have been president without his experience in North Dakota. Later, perhaps more significantly, he wrote that if all his memories were to be taken from him, and he was forced only one memory from his incredible life he would choose to remember “my life on the ranch with its experiences close to nature and among the men who lived nearest her.”

He did not choose the memory of the Roughriders or the charge up Kettle Hill; he would not recall McKinley’s assassination and his rise from the vice presidency to the Oval Office; he did not pick the 1912 Bull Moose independent campaign, the African safari or the River of Doubt. T.R. chose to remember North Dakota, and so North Dakota chooses to remember T.R.

So, if North Dakota is the right place, then why doesn’t Theodore Roosevelt have a presidential library already?

The presidential library system as administered by the National Archives did not begin until Franklin D. Roosevelt (now you have a third question: how are T.R. and FDR related? Short answer: T.R. was Eleanor Roosevelt’s uncle. His brother, Elliott, Eleanor’s father, died when Eleanor was 9; T.R., a favorite uncle and father figure, walked Eleanor down the aisle at her wedding to FDR).

There are now 13 official presidential libraries, beginning with Herbert Hoover, who preceded FDR but was designated later, and soon there will be a 14th with the addition of Barack Obama.

There are many fantastic tributes to T.R. — his birthplace in New York City, and his wonderfully evocative home at Sagamore Hill (you can’t truly know T.R. until you visit Sagamore Hill). But he does not have a presidential library, and in a way, we are fortunate. Now, we can build a T.R. presidential library in the 2020s, not the 1920s. We can embrace his flaws, understand T.R. as a human being, and discover what we can learn from him, not just about him. We can embrace immersive storytelling, new technologies, and build a digital library for an analog president; this museum can be a platform for embracing civic dialogue, thoughtful debate, and inspiration around the globe.

The T.R. Presidential Library & Museum will not be a box in the Badlands with artifacts under glass; the T.R. Library, like T.R.’s life, will be an experience.

The T.R. Presidential Library & Museum will not be a box in the Badlands with artifacts under glass; the T.R. Library, like T.R.’s life, will be an experience.

Edward F. O'Keefe
Chief Executive Officer

We have three pillar principles guiding us: Conservation, Leadership, and Citizenship. They are the foundation of everything we intend to do. Our mission is to explore the life, legacy, and enduring relevance of Theodore Roosevelt. Our vision is to inspire action and fearless participation ‘In the Arena.’ And our values are to dare greatly, think boldly, live passionately, and care deeply.

We want every visitor to the T.R. presidential library and museum to walk out understanding the role of nature as a restorative force in T.R.’s life, and that each of us can be the change we want to see in the world.

I like to say that Theodore Roosevelt is like a human Rorschach Test; what you see in him often says more about you than it does about him. And maybe that is because T.R. is uniquely capable of being two things at the same time.

  • T.R. is an Easterner, and he is a Westerner;
  • He is progressive, yet a pragmatist;
  • T.R. is impulsive, and yet thoughtful;
  • He is a Republican, and an Independent;
  • T.R. is, in many ways, quintessentially, American.

Everyone has their favorite T.R.-isms:

  • “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.”
  • “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
  • “Good to the last drop!” (Yes, that was T.R. too!)

My favorite T.R.-ism is: “do what you can with what you have where you are.” I was raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where I was also taught that “to whom much is given, much is required.”

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum is a once in a lifetime chance for all of us to do what we can with what we have right where this presidential library belongs.

To whom much is given, much is required.

Theodore Roosevelt
26th U.S President

If you care about these ideas and ideals — Leadership, Conservation, and Citizenship — if you have ever lost something or someone, picked yourself back up, and lived on, if you believe the past is prologue and that T.R.’s story ushering in the 20th century can be instructive in the 21st and every century beyond, then saddle up, and join us on this incredible adventure.

T.R. famously balked at the critic, and encouraged everyone to ‘get in the arena’ of life. Help us tell T.R.’s story. Get in the arena, and join this project for generations to come.

Sincerely,

Ed O’Keefe

Our Vision

Theodore Roosevelt died—unexpectedly—on January 6, 1919, and the nation awoke, stunned by the news that such a vigorous, larger-than-life figure was gone. Memorials were planned, associations formed, historic homes preserved, and yet Theodore Roosevelt does not have a presidential library.
Learn more

Contact Us

We aim to build a legacy for today, to create a new tomorrow. But we are not embarking on this journey alone, and we would love to hear from you. Send us your message through the form below.
Learn more

Get Involved

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library will instill T.R.'s powerful and enduring values in every visitor. Join us.
Learn more