Audrey Coleman, senior archivist at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University, sometimes meets high school and college students who haven't heard of Bob Dole. So why not start educating them about the former U.S. senator from Kansas earlier?
That was the idea behind the institute's celebration of Dole's 90th birthday Monday, which, judging by the crowd, closer resembled a party for a 9-year-old. Youngsters from the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence played mini-golf, participated in a scavenger hunt and decorated birthday cards for Dole, all to learn more about the long-serving Republican leader.
"For the senator's 90th birthday, we wanted to teach a younger generation about the senator and his many contributions to the country and the world," Coleman explained.
Kids donned party hats, colored cutouts of Leader (the Dole family dog), and decorated cards with sunflower stickers and birthday greetings.
"We're going to take these to the senator and he's going to read your messages," organizer Linda Clay told the assembled children, pointing to a sign at the table. "This is how you spell, 'Happy Birthday, Senator Dole.' Make sure you write your name on there so Senator Dole can read it."
Outside, a few kids from the group sat down to have cupcakes. So, what did they learn?
"We found out it was was Bob Dole's birthday. He's 90," said 6-year-old Cayden Dittmer. "I have a grandma that's turning 90."
"I have a great-great grandma who's 90," added Aiden Jones, 6.
Had they ever heard of Dole before?
"My mom and my grandma told me that he was in the newspaper," Cayden said, before correctly guessing a political question — Who is the current president? — asked by his teacher.
The discussion quickly turned to Big Jay, the Kansas Jayhawk mascot they had met earlier in the day: Was that a costume? Is he real? They were, after all, kindergarteners.
"You've got to start early," Coleman added.