Years ago, while Gene Budig was chancellor, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was asked if he would consider donating his papers to Kansas University. The senator said "yes," and years later, under the chancellorship of Robert Hemenway, plans were formalized for a building to house the vast collection.
Tuesday morning, the building was dedicated, marking the end of a memorable three-day program celebrating the life of Dole and showcasing the magnificent Dole Institute of Politics. It is doubtful any single event in the history of the university or the city has received more positive national attention or drawn more distinguished national officials to Lawrence.
This is a credit to the respect Dole enjoys from both Republican and Democratic leaders and to the vision, commitment and dreams of Richard Norton Smith, director of the Dole Institute.
Smith took over as director of the facility in 2001. Since taking the reins of the project, Smith has been on a mission to create a truly unique facility that, by calling attention to Dole's record, would send the message that public service is, indeed, a noble profession.
What visitors viewed during the three-day dedication and open house is a facility far different than what originally was envisioned, a relatively dull, academic building housing a lot of papers. It is a striking building with engaging historical presentations, modern storage areas for the valuable Dole papers, a library and research area, a room for various media events, an earth satellite communications system and an environment that cannot help but stir emotions and generate a sense of pride.
All of this is due to the vision, enthusiasm, commitment, patriotism and dreams of Richard Norton Smith. The public has no idea how hard he worked to bring this project to its present state. There is no way to overstate Smith's commitment to do whatever he could to create what he termed a "civic cathedral," a facility that would reflect credit on Dole, the university and the state of Kansas.
In addition to the building itself, Smith orchestrated the dedication program with the help of a handful of like-committed individuals. Their combined hard work, dreams and perseverance, along with the assistance of many people on and off the campus, paid off with a magnificent party for all those interested and involved in the gathering.
It was a winner in every respect!
However, as great and as interesting as the past few years have been and as successful as the dedication program was, there is every reason to believe the future of the Dole Institute will be even more impressive. It has the potential to have a positive effect on thousands of students, faculty members, historians and average citizens who may be swayed to consider careers in public service or at least to realize the importance of politics and understand that a person can have and express convictions strongly but with civility.
The potential is unlimited, and Richard Norton Smith deserves a giant and enthusiastic thank you for the job he has done. As the dedication program stated, "it's good to be in good things at their beginning." Now Smith, who receives many attractive offers and would be welcomed almost anywhere, needs the enthusiastic support and encouragement to stay at KU so the institute can achieve its full potential.