Local News

KRSL.com Special: Dole's Legacy is Towering and Still Growing

Bob DoleTopeka Capital-Journal - Kansans compelled to stand with Bob Dole came with mementos and stories.

Dan Kellenberger, a license plate collector from Sabetha, arrived with a Kansas plate issued to Dole in 1969. Don Harter's piece of the legacy was a newspaper clipping from when his father's band played "Happy Birthday" for Dole when he turned 50.

Others told of brothers who once picked Dole up at the airport and the time when Dole apologized to librarians in Troy (population 1,000) when a Chicago TV crew following him on the campaign trail made fun of their tiny library.

Dole, who served many years in the U.S. Senate and won the Republican nomination for president, spent much of the past half-century in Washington, D.C., but Kansans' sense of connection to him remains strong.

"He's been gone, but I think he represented Kansas well," Kellenberger said.

Dole will turn 91 in July. He uses a wheelchair to get around and in recent years has been hospitalized with bouts of pneumonia and other ailments worsened by the injuries that nearly killed him during World War II.

But Dole emerged last week sharp of mind and capable, if not vigorous, of body as he visited 10 Kansas cities.

He plans to return in a month and, by the end of the year, visit all of the state's 105 counties.

"You can take the boy out of Kansas, but you can't take Kansas out of the boy," Dole said during one of his stops. "That's sort of the way I feel. This is home. Kansas is my home."

Dole came to thank Kansans for decades of support, and they came to thank him for a lifetime of public service.

Dole's legacy is built on three pillars: a commitment to the U.S. military and its veterans, a political career marked by grand deal-making, and advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities.

Whether last week was the beginning of a reunion tour or a farewell tour, one thing was clear — Kansans are still looking to Bob Dole for inspiration in those areas and Bob Dole is still striving to give it to them.


Earl Boutell, stationed near San Francisco and preparing for deployment to Vietnam in 1971, requested leave from the U.S. Navy to return to Larned for the birth of his daughter. The answer from his military superiors was firm.

"We need you in Vietnam," commanders said, "and there will be no leave."

Boutell wrote to Dole, who managed to wrangle Boutell 28 days of leave. He was with his wife, Linda, for the birth of Jennifer, who is the couple's only child. Wearing a T-shirt and cap reflecting his combat service, Boutell publicly thanked Dole at an appearance in Johnson County for his willingness to intercede.

"If not for him," he said, "I would have missed her birth. It changed my life. I didn't think I was ever going to see my daughter."

Dole is the last WWII veteran to run for president. He led the fundraising effort for the National World War II Memorial in Washington and regularly greets "Honor Flights" of WWII veterans who come to see it.

"There's always a lot of tissues used," Dole said.

Dole also co-chaired a presidential commission investigating care of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His wife, Elizabeth, started a foundation to help injured soldiers' families.

At stops Monday and Tuesday, the Kansas political icon asked all military veterans to stand and be recognized. He also asked if any of the veterans had fought in WWII. In Holton and Hiawatha there were a few. In Troy, Dole was the only one.

"I'm sorry there are no World War II veterans here because we're sort of the disappearing generation," Dole said. "I'm 90. Some of them are young, like 87."

The prospect of the nation's collective memory of WWII fading frightens some, and Dole remains a talisman to keep that memory alive.

Randi Dale came to Dole's appearance in Lawrence to enlist his help in preserving the Peace Memorial Auditorium in Manhattan. Dale has been at odds with city officials for almost a year over their plans to renovate the auditorium, which was built in the 1950s to honor the 2,610 Riley County residents who served in WWII.

City officials say the renovations won't affect the historical significance.

Dale, who has rented the auditorium for children's dance recitals in the past, said plans to strip out the seating and turn it into parks and recreation offices would be disrespectful to veterans.

"We feel that Bob Dole needs to know this is happening," Dale said.

Charles Hamm traveled from Topeka to Dole's appearance in Holton, also seeking the former senator's help.

Hamm was a paratrooper in WWII who ended up in a French hospital after a bad jump wrenched his back. Before that, he met Dwight D. Eisenhower when the general came to review the 101st Airborne Division.

Hamm, 89, revealed a shock of thick, white hair when he removed his 101st Airborne hat at Tuesday's event at the Jackson County Senior Center.

He gets around with the help of a walker that has a copy of a Life magazine cover of Eisenhower taped to the front of it.

After seeing how much money Dole raised for the WWII memorial, Hamm hoped Dole could aid in erecting a memorial to Ike.

"I was hoping to have a chance to talk to Bob a little bit about this stuff," Hamm said, patting a large envelope stuffed with Eisenhower Memorial Commission material.

Why Dole?

"Bob Dole is probably the best example of a disabled veteran that overcame his disabilities to become a world-renowned statesman," Hamm said.


Dole's autobiography, "One Soldier's Story: A Memoir," recounts the battle in which Nazi shrapnel ripped through his shoulder and back. He was temporarily paralyzed and endured years of surgeries and physical therapy. A former college athlete, Dole would never fully recover.

Decades later a Kansan named Rick McNabb worked with Dole as an intern in Washington, D.C.

Behind the scenes McNabb saw the physical struggles that Dole rarely showed publicly.

"I knew," McNabb said. "I knew his pain, and I knew the things he went through."

McNabb and Dole parted ways, moving on to other things.

Then, in 2010, McNabb suffered a brain aneurysm and was paralyzed on his left side. He faced years of his own rehabilitation. Memories of Dole pushed him through the days when despair about his future crept in.

"Whatever's going on with your body, you can make a difference in others' lives," McNabb said he learned from Dole. "You can still have a significance."

McNabb, who was reunited with Dole on Tuesday in Lawrence, is now walking with a cane and working basketball camps again. Dole was instrumental in passing the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, calling it a piece of "historic civil rights legislation" at the time.

JoAnne Fluke, who was Miss Wheelchair Kansas in 2005, was present for Dole's visit to Ottawa. She was born with a caudal regression and has had a lifetime to adapt to the lower-spine disorder. Her father took her to see Dole when she was young, sensing an encounter with one of the country's most prominent advocates for people with disabilities could be inspirational.

"We crossed paths when I was a young child," said Fluke, who serves on a local accessibility board. "Everybody is going to be part of the disability community at some point."

In December 2012, Dole was wheeled into the U.S. Senate chamber in an attempt to sway Republicans to vote to join a United Nations treaty banning discrimination against people with disabilities.

The Senate needed 66 of the chamber's 100 votes to ratify the treaty and fell short despite Dole's appearance, with 38 Republicans voting no.

Dole had just been released from a stint at Walter Reed, and some media outlets described the treaty's defeat as a poignant failure in what might be Dole's final public appearance.

More than a year later, Dole is feeling better and during a stop in Hiawatha said the fight for the treaty is far from over.

"It's very important that we have a seat at the table," Dole said. "We're the leading country when it comes to providing for disabled veterans and disabled American people generally. Some have very serious disabilities, particularly some of those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan."

Dole noted that 139 countries already have ratified the treaty.

"Russia wasn't one of them," Dole said. "But we don't want to be with them."

While addressing the crowd, Dole said he didn't understand why anyone would object to the treaty that he said would "make certain our disabled Americans who travel abroad will not be discriminated against."

But in a private moment after the crowd thinned, Dole acknowledged that an anti-U.N. campaign by home-schooling advocates swayed the votes of conservatives, including Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.

Dole said fears of the treaty allowing U.N. meddling in home-schooling were unfounded, but he understood the political realities.

"Home-schooling was a real concern for Pat and Jerry, and I don't fault them," Dole said. "They had to use their judgment."

Still, Dole said he believes there are now 65 solid Senate votes in favor of the treaty and said specifically that Kansas' two votes would put it over the top.

"We haven't given up," Dole said. "We're going to vote July 21, the day before my birthday, so maybe they'll give me a present."

Bipartisan deals

Ronald Wilson, a retired minister and professor living in Olathe, said he fondly recalled an event on the outskirts of Des Moines, Iowa, when Dole made a persuasive early push for the GOP presidential nomination.

"I was living in Iowa at the time and was there at the beginning," Wilson said. "Marvelous, marvelous fella."

Dole's presidential campaign started in Russell with a ceremony that included a presentation to Dole of $100,000 in contributions tucked into a cigar box that had been used to collect donations for his war-related medical expenses decades earlier. He won the Iowa caucus and won in South Dakota and Minnesota, but his campaign subsequently faltered.

Dole's political career will be remembered in part for his failed presidential run against Bill Clinton, as well as the self-deprecating TV commercials that followed.

But his three and a half decades in Congress were marked by significant and successful legislative deals.

At every stop Tuesday he was asked to pick his greatest legislative achievement. Each time he highlighted the 1983 compromise he struck with Daniel Moynihan, a Democrat from New York, to shore up a Social Security system headed for insolvency.

The deal cut some benefits for wealthy seniors and increased payroll taxes for employees and employers. It was politically risky, and Dole said in the days leading up to it, a compromise seemed impossible.

"We couldn't agree on anything," Dole said. "I remember in January of '83, Dan and I met on the Senate floor and said 'We can't let this happen. There are 30 million Americans who rely on their Social Security.' So we got together and worked out a plan."

During the stop in Troy, Dole also highlighted his work with George McGovern, a "liberal Democrat" from South Dakota, on food assistance programs at home and abroad.

"We didn't agree on much, but we agreed on nutrition programs and hunger programs," Dole said.

Dole said extremists on both sides of the aisle are preventing such grand deals now.

"In order to get things done, sometimes you have to compromise," Dole said. "President Reagan told me one day, 'Bob, you get me 70 percent this year, we'll get the rest next year. He understood that sometimes you can't get everything. Doesn't mean you didn't try, doesn't mean you aren't a conservative, doesn't mean anything. You just don't have the votes. If you don't have the votes, you just have to get what you can get. Compromise is not a bad word."

Dole said the nation's moderate majority is left in the cold while Washington, D.C., is gripped by gridlock. But when asked what the federal government will look like in 10 years, he said "I think it's going to be better."

University of Kansas museum studies students Brittany Thurman and Kelsey Jistal, who have known little but that gridlock in their voting lives, said they were inspired to come to Tuesday's event at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics after researching Dole's career to help with the institute's exhibits.

"I was impressed by his record of bipartisanship and really trying to bridge the gap between parties," Thurman said.

At the event in Troy, Mary Winder asked Dole about the need for more compromise in Congress. She later said his presence provided some hope that Washington can work again.

"When he was a senator they were able to do that, so they should be able to do that now," Winder said. "If they tried a little harder, and maybe put aside their personal vendettas, maybe it could be more like it was."

(Story written by Andy Marso, Topeka Capital-Journal)

Read More Local News
Local News Banner
Russell, KS weather