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Posts Tagged ‘presidential libraries’

eisenhower librarySherrylee and I just returned Saturday from a two-week road trip vacation—which is why this blog station has been silent for a while!  For the first week we were in Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota looking up dead relatives . . . if you know what I mean.

I must admit that I find it great fun to dig around in court records and libraries, even the walk through cemeteries, looking for clues to how my great- and great-great- grandparents lived, why they moved from one place to another, how they met their spouses and lived their lives. It’s certainly more fun and entertaining that watching fake people’s lives on the soaps!  I guess this is my own version of reality TV!!

The second week of our trip we drove across Minnesota and South Dakota to Mt. Rushmore—a beautiful drive this time of year and an impressive monument.  While Sherrylee searched the antique stores of Rapid City for treasures, I drove over to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, a place I’ve been attracted to since seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

OK, I will also confess that driving back to Rapid City from Devil’s Tower, I stopped in both Sundance, Wyoming, where the Sundance Kid took his nickname because he had been jailed there, as well as Deadwood, SD, where Wild Bill Hickok held aces and eights for the last time. I don’t find it very inspiring that people leave half-empty whiskey bottles and old playing cards on his grave.

From South Dakota, we started home, but first had a very important stop in Abilene, Kansas. Here’s the story:

Shortly after President Reagan died in June 2004, Sherrylee and I visited his library and museum in Simi Valley, California.  Our visit was especially meaningful because our memories of his funeral there were still quite vivid, but we were amazed at how well done and interesting the museum itself was—and that was even before they had the retired Air Force One on display there.

Some friends of our try to visit all the classic roller coasters in the U.S..Others travel to and tour baseball stadiums. Some of our dearest friends set a goal of seeing all 34 Vermeer paintings—I don’t know if they include the disputed paintings or not—but I think they have or will soon complete this fancy.

Sherrylee and I decided we wanted to see all of the presidential libraries/museums.  There were only twelve at the time, but now there are thirteen official presidential libraries.

Franklin D. Roosevelt established the first presidential library in 1939 as a repository for his papers. In addition, he donated part of his Hyde Park, NY, estate to house them. Harry Truman decided he wanted to do the same thing and so a pattern developed that was codified by Congress, first in 1955 in the Presidential Libraries Act, then even more firmly established in 1978 and 1986.  The result is a wonderful set of museums, strung like pearls across the United States, literally from coast to coast, operated and maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.  Here is the list and location:

Herbert Hoover Library West Branch, Iowa
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Hyde Park, New York
Harry S. Truman Library Independence, Missouri
Dwight D. Eisenhower Library Abilene, Kansas
John F. Kennedy Library Boston, Massachusetts
Lyndon B. Johnson Library Austin, Texas
Richard M. Nixon Library Yorba Linda, California
Gerald R. Ford Library Ann Arbor/Grand Rapids, Michigan
Jimmy Carter Library Atlanta, Georgia
Ronald Reagan Library Simi Valley, California
George H. W. Bush Library College Station, Texas
William J. Clinton Library Little Rock, Arkansas
George W. Bush Library Dallas, Texas

 

Now you know the reason for our important stop in Abilene, Kansas.  Our visit to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library means I have visited all of the libraries.  Sherrylee still lacks two, and I’m sure we will eventually see those two together.

The presidential libraries are like heaven will be!  The full story of every president’s life is revealed.

  • I bet you do not know what an extraordinary generous man Herbert Hoover was, a man who spent much of his life and personal fortune helping the hungry and homeless.
  • I bet you didn’t know that George H. W. Bush was raised as a man of deep faith, and that he served as an elder in his church.
  • I bet you don’t know that Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, was raised by a pacifist mother, and that he hated war!  He said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

I say the libraries are like heaven because the stories of these men’s lives are told to show what led them to greatness and to show the good that they have done with the lives they were given.  When essential to their story, their failures are admitted—Watergate, Bay of Pigs, Great Depression, etc.—but when you get to the end of the museum, you always feel like you have been in the presence of someone who cared deeply about his country and his fellow citizens and who was wholly committed to upholding his oath as president.

After commanding millions of soldiers in war and sitting in the most powerful seat in the world for eight years, Dwight D. Eisenhower was buried in a regulation army casket in a chapel in Abilene, Kansas.  That simple casket is the fate of all of us—great or small.

Presidential libraries might be like Heaven on Judgment Day.  Because of the justice of God, our lives will be openly displayed, but because of He is full of mercy and grace, most prominently displayed will be how God has worked the days of our lives together for good along with those good works He prepared for us to do.  Our sinfulness is acknowledged, but overshadowed by the love and light of Jesus, so that He will be glorified when He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

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Yesterday, Sherrylee and I visited the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. In recent years, we have visited five of the libraries, and I enjoy it more with each one.  There are twelve official libraries and museums, but Gerald Ford has two—a separate library and museum, so only eleven presidents, the eleven beginning with Herbert Hoover and ending with Bill Clinton, are represented.

After visiting each museum, we leave with a picture of a man, his family, and his work who has had an immense influence on our country and the history of the world. Most of these libraries are built shortly after the end of the presidency they honor, so, in some ways, they lack the purview of a longer, historical evaluation. Those libraries built during the lifetime of the man they portray, however, appear to reflect what the man himself wants his legacy to be, how he sees himself, not his opponents’ views, not the media, and not the judgment of historians.

It is this very personal quality that I found both fascinating and encouraging in the George Bush Library yesterday.  This is a presidency that was not so long ago that it has become mythical, nor so recent to still be part of the political debate. He is still alive—not thriving according to reports, but then he is 87 years old.

I saw him at a Texas Ranger ballgame a while back, but my favorite memory is from March 1992, when I heard him speak on the campus of Oklahoma Christian during his re-election campaign–one of the most beautiful March days I ever remember. The Bradford pear trees were at the peak of their bloom and the bright sun just barely knocked the chill off early spring. For a decade after that, I measured the advance of spring by that day in March that President Bush came to our campus.

Two things stood out to me after two hours in President Bush’s Presidential Library and Museum.  First, I never knew how much his personal faith in God penetrated his life and presidency. At every turn, the exhibits very quietly but explicitly testify to his faith in God .  The section on his parents mentions not only regular church attendance but that each day the family read the Bible together and prayed together. The ordination certificate of Bush as an elder in the Presbyterian church during his oil days in Midland, Texas, hangs in the middle of his early business career exhibit.

You probably don’t remember that his very intentional first act as president, just a couple of minutes after taking the oath of office, was to lead the nation in prayer.  Here are his words:

And my first act as President is a prayer. I ask you to bow your heads:  

Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: “Use power to help people.” For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord. Amen

 

His library is amazingly full of expressions of personal faith during his presidency. Did you know that President Bush built a chapel at the presidential retreat Camp David and was the president who first initiated regular worship services there?

Second, I heard a war hero who flew 58 attack missions in WWII, a man who was shot down by the Japanese and barely escaped with his life, a man who directed the Central Intelligence Agency and who was the ambassador to the United Nations during the Cold War, call in his inaugural address for a “kinder . . .  face of the Nation and gentler  . . . face of the world.”

Some have accused him of being a wimp, for not having the guts to finish off Saddam Hussein, for instance, in Desert Storm.  I read his first words as President—the most powerful man in the world—and I don’t hear someone longing for power. I hear someone who feels blessed with power, not because he deserves it, but as an opportunity to do good in his neighborhood.

I really like “kinder and gentler”. We need that not only in the political rhetoric today, but in the hearts of our political leaders.  I suspect the daily Bible reading and prayers and the “kinder and gentler” thing are part of the same package.

I’m glad to have learned this about George Bush. It is not the whole story, perhaps, but it is part of his story that he wanted told on the walls of his library.

Thank you, Mr. President.

As we are taught to pray for the leaders of our country, so we pray for you and Mrs. Bush and give thanks for the good you have done in this world.

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