For most of the thousands of people expected to visit Lawrence this weekend, the Dole Institute of Politics is a building on Kansas University's west campus.
But for those who have been with it from the beginning, the institute is a 6-year-old entity that has been largely undefined until this point, and it has been plagued with delays.
"There has been a certain murkiness surrounding the institute," said Richard Norton Smith, who took over as director in December 2001.
Smith hopes to change that.
With plans that include big-name speakers, academic and public programming and access to 4,000 boxes of former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole's political papers, Smith is trying to paint a vision for the Dole Institute's future.
That means the completion of the building is both the end of one era and the beginning of another.
"With the opening of the building, the first phase will come to a close," said Burdett Loomis, KU professor of political science who served as the institute's interim director from 1997 to 2001. "The question is, what do you do to take the next step? Where do we go from here?"
The institute finds its roots in a request for proposals Dole sent in 1991 to several universities, asking what they'd do if offered his papers, which span his work as Russell County attorney, state legislator, U.S. congressman, U.S. senator and candidate for president and vice president.
In early 1996, as Dole closed in on the Republican presidential nomination, Bill Crowe, then KU's dean of libraries, sent a memo to Chancellor Robert Hemenway suggesting KU send another proposal to Dole for building a presidential library should he be elected.
When Dole won the nomination but lost the election, Hemenway met with him shortly afterward with a proposal for an archive that also would have programming on political issues.
Crowe said he remembered a small group -- including Francis Heller, former law professor, and Ed Meyen, special education professor -- meeting to discuss Dole's reaction to the proposal.
"The chancellor said (Dole) was positive about this, but the one thing he wanted was he didn't want this to be some 'damn memorial,'" Crowe recalled. "He wanted it to be useful."
Hemenway officially announced the institute's creation in April 1997, during a university event with Dole. Loomis was picked to be the first leader of the then-named Dole Institute for Public Service and Public Policy. The boxes of papers began arriving that summer.
"I've thought about it a lot because at first I was a little cool with the idea (of an institute)," Dole said during a recent interview. "We're trying to make it so it's not about Bob Dole. It's about politics. Not Republican or Democrat, but just politics."
For the next four years, the institute operated from a small office in Blake Hall.
"There's kind of been a chewing-gum and baling-wire element to this from the beginning," Loomis said. "We had a very minimal operation. It was basically me and an administrative assistant."
The institute had several seminars, workshops and public forums. Topics included trade relations with China, governmental ethics and the future of Social Security. A highlight was "Civility and Deliberation in the United States Senate," a daylong seminar in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, Hemenway, Dole and officials from the KU Endowment Association pieced together private and public money for a building to house the papers, offices and programs. They initially set the building cost at $6 million -- about $5 million lower than the project turned out.
"It was an $11 million to $12 million building, and it got shrunk down to $6 million and 28,000 square feet of space," Loomis said. "In some ways we lowballed the estimate to get the project going."
The biggest boosts financially came in 1998, when the Kansas Legislature approved $3 million for construction of the Dole Institute building and the U.S. Congress approved $6 million for the building, archiving the papers and establishing programming.
But private fund raising fell short of expectations, delaying the start of the project. Initially, University Architect Warren Corman said groundbreaking could be as early as spring 1999.
"The fund raising was disappointing," Loomis said. "They thought people would fall over themselves (to donate). Bob Dole was no longer in the Senate. We lost a lot because of that."
KU officials raised enough money to start the project in fall 2001. Large donations included $1 million from Phil Anschutz, a KU graduate, benefactor and Russell native, and $500,000 from the Starr Foundation in New York.
Dole returned to campus Oct. 5, 2001, for a groundbreaking ceremony that also included many Kansas political leaders.
The search for a permanent director also caused delays. A search committee was formed in fall 1999, with a goal of having a director in place by June 2, 2000.
Candidates for the position included Smith, then director of the Gerald R. Ford Museum and Library; Loomis; Carl Reddel, president of Eisenhower World Affairs at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania; Charles Ranson, the head of Kansas Inc.; and John Kornacki, former director of the Dirksen Congressional Center in Pekin, Ill.
Despite the slate of candidates, Hemenway announced in summer 2000 that KU didn't find "that match we're looking for" and reopened the search process.
Sources later said Smith pulled his name from contention, citing a fund-raising and expansion project under way at the Ford library. Dole was so set on Smith taking the job, he refused to allow KU to appoint someone else. Dole and Smith have been friends since the late 1970s and have worked on various projects together.
By August 2001, the Ford project was nearing completion, and Smith said he felt he could leave without jeopardizing the effort. KU announced his hiring, and he started Dec. 1, 2001.
"The leadership of the Dole Institute requires a special kind of person," said Deanell Tacha, a U.S. Appeals Court judge who led the search committee. "It takes someone with knowledge of the national political scene, someone who works for giving greater visibility for a center like this, and who knows the senator or at least knows of the senator. In my judgment, Richard Norton Smith was the perfect person for the job."
With the building completed and Smith hired, the next focus will be on public programming and fusing the institute with KU's academic functions.
"Once the cheering stops and the celebrities go home and the tents are struck, then the real business begins," Smith said. "That's going to require a long-term commitment by the university and by the Endowment Association."
Smith said the institute's endowment, which is currently at $4 million, needed to be at least $20 million for the institute to function properly. Hemenway has said he thought a good target would be $25 million to $30 million.
A $25 million endowment would provide about $1.25 million annually for the institute.
Smith said he planned to continue the annual Presidential Lecture Series, which started last year with three prominent historians, and bring in other speakers. He also wants visiting scholars to come, and he's already started an oral history project on Kansas politics.
The Dole Institute's staff remains small. Currently, it consists of Smith; Erik Nelson, associate director; Linda Kay Pritchard, administrative officer; Jean Bischoff, archivist; and Glenda Stevens, multimedia archivist.
Smith said he would consider adding a full-time fund-raiser, an oral historian and receptionist to the staff.
Hemenway said he was convinced the Dole Institute would make an effect in the world of political science, both for KU students and for others across the country.
And, he said, the building -- with Dole exhibits, the world's largest stained-glass flag and World Trade Center beams -- will become a tourist attraction.
"You stand inside that building, with the stained-glass flag, and your heart starts beating a little harder," he said. "I'm proud the University of Kansas can be a vehicle for that kind of inspiration."
Hemenway said he was pleased with Smith's performance during the first 19 months on the job.
Smith has made his mark on the institute. He redesigned the inside of the building to include more exhibit space and less research space. And he shortened the name to the Dole Institute of Politics.
But those who have been with the institute from the beginning say the direction of the institute has never changed.
"I think the basic concept is the same," Crowe said. "Bob Dole connected with people, and the institute's going to connect with people. Whether they're wearing blue jeans or a three-piece suit, the institute will connect with people."