Hundreds gather to greet Bob Dole at KU

Even at age 90, Bob Dole still draws a crowd whenever he shows up to speak.

That was evident Tuesday when about 350 people gathered at the Dole Institute of Politics on the Kansas University campus to catch a glimpse of the former Kansas senator and hear him expound on the issues of the day.

And Dole didn’t disappoint. Although frail with age and a bad knee, his voice no longer booming across an auditorium the way it did in his campaigning days, Dole showed he still has a keen interest in world affairs.

“I think one (challenge) that is going to face any president, Democrat or Republican, is what do we do in North Korea,” Dole said when asked about the biggest challenges facing the U.S. over the next decade.

“Hopefully, and we pray it’ll be settled by then, but what do we do with Iran if they have nuclear weapons,” he continued. “And what do we do in Syria? There’ll be a lot of foreign policy challenges.”

But Dole also showed he still has the sharp wit and self-deprecating humor that once made him a favorite on Sunday morning talk shows.

When Logan Brown, a senior at Lawrence Free State High School asked what advice the Bob Dole of today would give to his younger self when he was a freshman senator, Dole didn’t miss a beat.

“Well, find the bathroom,” he said. “Know where the Senate chamber is. The basic things.”

But for most people in the audience, Dole’s appearance Tuesday was more than just a chance to hear an elder statesman answer questions. It was their chance to meet again with a man who has been a friend to many and a mentor to even more.

Kansas University junior Will Hartenstein greets former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole during an open house at the Dole Institute of Politics earlier this year.

“We were in law school together,” said U.S. District Judge Sam Crow, recalling their time together at Washburn University in Topeka not long after World War II.

“He needed to have assistance in writing because his right hand, he couldn’t use his right hand and he was learning how to write with his left hand,” Crow said, referring to the injury Dole suffered in combat during the war. “And he came into class the first day, as I recall, and I saw him with this box, and that was a recording device. It was not easy for him to handle it at that time. … So I went over and asked if I could carry his little box. And that’s how we started.”

“Every night he would take those records,” Crow continued. “They were at that time little green (discs) and it would make a groove on all of the records. And then at night he would listen to those records and make his notes, laboriously. He’s a very unusual, outstanding and very fine man. Very studious.”

Nelson Krueger worked as Dole’s senate field assistant from 1973 to 1975, a period that included one of the most politically difficult times in Dole’s career as he faced a tough re-election challenge in the wake of the Watergate scandal. But Krueger said it was also one of the most rewarding times in Dole’s personal life.

“Sen. Dole actually got married during my time with him, and we went to about 25 wedding receptions to different cities,” said Krueger, who now works as a lobbyist in Topeka. “And this tour he’s on now reminds me a little bit of that.”

Dole, a former Republican Party nominee for vice president and president, returned to Kansas this week to make nine appearances over three days, mainly to say thank you to those who supported him in a career that spanned four decades in Washington.

“You can take the boy out of Kansas, but you can’t take Kansas out of the boy,” he told the audience in Lawrence.

Dole grew up in Russell, where he graduated from high school in 1941, and his supporters said he never forgot his boyhood roots in central Kansas.

Aldean Banker, who still lives in Russell, drove to Lawrence with her daughter, Zoann Maryfield, for the chance to see Dole again. Banker’s late husband, Dean Banker, owned Banker’s Department Store in Russell, where Dole reportedly bought his first suit.

“When Barbara Walters interviewed Bob during the presidential campaign (in 1996), she did so in the store that my parents owned, that my great-grandfather started in the 1880s,” Maryfield said. “He was in a fashion show at Banker’s, modeling, when he was a senior in high school.”

Dole’s appearance Tuesday capped off a yearlong celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Dole Institute of Politics at KU.

Dedicated on his 80th birthday in 2003, the institute’s mission is “to promote political and civic participation as well as civil discourse in a bipartisan, balanced manner.”

The institute also houses the archives from Dole’s congressional career, which began when he was elected to his first term in the U.S. House in 1960 and ended with his unsuccessful presidential run in 1996.