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Archive for Monday, December 28, 2009

Ike’s place

December 28, 2009

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Kansans should be intensely proud of it and always support it. Anyone who has never visited the site is well-advised to spend a day at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene.

The pending retirement of Dennis Medina as curator for the library-museum after 41 years of helping to make the site “big league” in every way reminds us just how fortunate Kansas is to have such a treasure.

Dwight Eisenhower was born in Texas, but he and his family came to Kansas early on and it was here that Ike and the Eisenhowers fostered their countless contributions. By any standard the 34th president is one of the state’s most notable products.

He was a noted West Point graduate who became one of the nation’s outstanding military leaders, organizing and directing countless World War II achievements, including the demanding and harrowing D-Day Invasion in June 1944. Eisenhower then headed NATO, served as president of Columbia University then again answered his nation’s call to public service as a two-term president of the United States. Very few states can claim a military hero-public servant with credentials such as that.

It was only fitting, then, that Kansans and Eisenhower friends pursue efforts to put the library and museum complex in Abilene, where Ike grew up. At one time, there were doubts that it could achieve the stature of other presidential historical sites, but the people of Abilene never forgot their favorite son and his achievements.

For the retiring Medina, taking over the project wound up to be a lifelong love affair. He was the exhibits director for the Colorado State Historical Society when the chance to move to Abilene came in 1969. He thought he would put in five or six years there and then move on, perhaps to a job in Washington, possibly in connection with the White House.

What happened? “I loved the collection, the exhibit work,” he told the Salina Journal. “The Eisenhower family has been good to me. ... And the local people. They are all very friendly, very interested in what’s going on at the museum. They’re great supporters of our public programs.” Medina said he never tired of getting “to hold history in my hands.”

Much as he wishes it could have happened, Medina never met Dwight Eisenhower, who died March 28, 1969. “I started the day he died,” says Medina. But the curator established a good relationship with Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie. “She was very generous to the museum. She gave us lots of personal things and had a deep interest in the museum. She came here once a year, sometimes twice.”

The Eisenhower museum did not grow and achieve the high status it now enjoys without great leadership from the likes of Medina and countless others, most of them Kansans. Medina has every reason to be proud of the job he has done and the outstanding result of his efforts.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum is a major gem in the Kansas crown of accomplishments, and it is easy for anyone to spend a day in a fabulous setting for culture and history paying tribute to Ike and Mamie, who contributed so much to America.

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