Your turn: Tour shows Kansans’ respect for Dole

“I’m not here to ask you for anything. I’m not asking for your vote and for once I’m not asking for money. I just want to say thank you.”

Sen. Bob Dole started off each of his stops with these words on his second tour of Kansas this year while visiting 16 counties in four days.

As a girl from small town Kansas who received a Robert J. Dole Public Service Scholarship when I first came to Kansas University, it was an honor and a thrill to get to travel with him throughout this tour. Seeing so many people greet Dole made me realize how many lives he’s touched. With such a tight schedule and a rock-star welcome everywhere we went, it was sometimes difficult for us to make sure the senator had enough time to talk with everyone who came out to see him.

Dole has set an ambitious goal at the age of 90 of visiting all 105 Kansas counties. This really shouldn’t surprise any of us. The senator has set ambitious goals for himself his entire life.

It is widely known that Dole was injured in World War II in Italy. Once he came back to the United States, he focused on his rehabilitation and returned to college to finish his education, determined to not allow his injuries to slow him down. He went on to become the longest serving Republican leader in the Senate and the Republican nominee for president in 1996.

When asked on the recent tour what accomplishment from his time in the Senate he is most proud of, Dole’s response was saving Social Security in 1983. The senator further stated that his biggest disappointment while in the Senate was not getting the balanced Budget amendment passed in 1995.

Ambitious goals sometimes reap great rewards. What Dole shows us is that even when things don’t work out exactly as planned, there are always lessons to be learned and always more to be accomplished.

Since leaving the Senate 18 years ago, the senator established the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence. He played a major role in the creation of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., where he continues to meet Honor Flight veterans as often as possible. He also helped to found the Bipartisan Policy Institute, and remains active on disability, food security and veterans issues.

Nearly every Kansan has his or her own “Bob Dole story,” which I was reminded while traveling the state with him. I was 9 years old when he ran for the presidency in 1996, but I could tell even then that there was something special about this man.

Dole is of the generation of statesmen who could separate the politics from the person. His appeal as a true public servant who deeply cares about the individuals who elected him can be seen easily in every county he visited. Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent — and all have been out to offer their reciprocal gratitude — Dole served each of us.

“There’s nothing wrong with compromise, and there’s nothing wrong with bipartisanship. That’s how you get things done,” the senator remarked at a stop in Kansas City, Kan.

Dole is no longer running for political office, though many of us continue to chase him. We chase the ideals of bipartisanship and compromise he stands for. We chase the American dream that he personifies. We also chase the senator himself for the chance to say thank you, because we recognize that there is something special about Dole, something rare, something we aspire to and define as truly American.

At the dedication of the Dole Institute in 2003, Dole remarked, “Remember that the greatness of America lies, not in the power of her government but in the goodness of her people. And that the greatest victories are not won at the polls. They are won in human hearts.”

Sen. Dole, you have undoubtedly won the greatest victory. From every Kansan who has come out to greet you, to every World War II veteran who has taken an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to every student who is inspired through the Dole Institute of Politics, you continue to win our hearts. We salute you and support you in your latest ambitious goal of visiting all 105 Kansas counties. We continue to chase after the statesman who has made us so very proud to be Kansans and has shown us all the things that are possible through a life dedicated to public service and a determination never to be afraid to follow your dreams.