Washington His name graces the front of the limestone building. Pictures of him line the walls inside, and while the Dole Institute of Politics is designed to honor one of the most accomplished political figures in Kansas history, the man behind it all doesn't want the attention.
"We're trying to make it so it's not about Bob Dole," the former senator said during a recent interview on the 10th floor of the law offices of Alston & Bird in Washington, D.C., where Dole is special counsel. "It's about politics, not Republican or Democrat, but just politics."
The idea for a tribute to Dole was developed shortly after the 1996 presidential election. But he did not want the building to be a monument to him, nor did he want it to be just another building bearing someone's name.
"I've thought about it a lot because at first I was a little cool with the idea," Dole said. "Why are you going to do this? We don't need another building with somebody's name on it. Nobody's around forever, and then they're gone and people are asking who was that guy 20 years from now."
It seems likely, though, that 20, 50, even 100 years from now, people will remember Dole's service to his country, from his beginnings in Kansas as a state legislator and Russell County attorney to his rise to majority leader of the U.S. Senate. And it seems proper that the building named after the World War II hero and presidential candidate is designed to celebrate public service and urge more people to become involved in the political process.
"Hopefully it's going to be a lively, vibrant place where things happen," Dole said. "We want to get people involved. We want it to be bipartisan. We want to get more young people involved because young people, many have the right to vote and don't vote. That's true of seniors, too, but younger people particularly don't."
Political paper trail
Students and visitors, young and old alike, will have access at the Dole Institute of Politics to what is now the largest congressional collection in the world, thanks to the senator who shipped box after box of his personal belongings to Kansas University to be housed at the institute.
"I shipped about 4,000 boxes of paper out there. I guess I must have saved more than anybody, but I'm certain a lot of it's not important," he said. "If people want to go back and look at a legislative career, write a book, do research, it's going to be available."
Dole is happy to have those personal items back in his home state of Kansas. While the western Kansas community of Russell would have liked to be home to the Dole Institute, the senator said the more appropriate setting for the building was a college town, like Lawrence.
"Washburn University had a strong interest in it, but KU is sort of where I started school," Dole said. After serving in World War II, he enrolled at Washburn, in Topeka, where he earned a juris doctorate.
But Dole first enrolled at Kansas University in August of 1941 as a pre-med student.
"I wasn't a great student, but I started there and that was sort of my first venture away from Russell, Kansas, and that's when I went off to war. I've had a long attachment to KU, even though I didn't carry Douglas County -- there are lots of liberals in that county," he said with a smile. "In any event it's not for political purposes. I think Lawrence is just the right place for it. I think it's going to work out pretty well."
Dole credits his friend Richard Norton Smith, a former speechwriter and the institute's first permanent director, for his ideas and vision, as well as for getting the Dole Institute of Politics ready for a multiday dedication ceremony. Dole said Smith had more ideas than he could keep track of.
"Richard Norton Smith has done an outstanding job," Dole said. "He's really gotten that place going. It was dead in the water for four years. I mean, nothing happened. Somebody had an idea and then they didn't do anything. I kept telling them the body's going to get cold. If you're going to go out and raise money for Bob Dole, you better do it right away."
Celebration of a generation
The building now stands ready for the eyes of the nation, as the official dedication gets started this weekend. The three-day event is expected to draw tens of thousands of people, and Dole is looking forward to the festivities.
"Oh, big time! Yeah, we've got a lot of people going from here (Washington)," he said. "There's going to be a lot of people there. I just read a letter from some guy who's coming all the way from California so he can dance to the Glenn Miller Band. That's our generation's band -- the Glenn Miller music -- and it's still pretty good music. You ever listen to it?"
The festivities also will mark a milestone in the senator's life, his 80th birthday on July 22. He downplays the significance.
"It's not about me. I just happen to have a birthday. They had to have some excuse to dedicate it and some excuse to bring all these people in," Dole said.
He is serious, though, when he talks about how the real guests of honor at the dedication will be members of the "Greatest Generation," soldiers who served with Dole during World War II.
"We're going to sort of pay tribute to that generation, my generation, not to me, but my generation. We're going to have a big wall of pictures of Kansans who served in World War II, and I guess they're coming in by the basketfuls," Dole said. "It's just going to be a day to remember that generation, but also think about the future. You don't dwell on the past, you think about it, but you've got to move ahead."