Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 21, 2022

War hero, statesman, "everyman"

When I heard last month that Bob Dole had died, I thought of his service to our country, both in war and peace. But my personal interactions with him over the past 20-plus years were what primarily came to mind.

We met in the fall of 1997. I was in Phillipsburg, Kansas for the dedication of the Huck Boyd Community Center. Several Kansas State University colleagues were there as well, including then-President Jon Wefald. McDill "Huck" Boyd, the late editor of the Phillips County Review, was an unabashed supporter of his community and very active in the Republican National Committee. Dole considered him to be his mentor and so was present to share in the occasion. He often said it was Boyd's encouragement that led him to his life in politics. I was there in my role as director of K-State's Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media.

That "outing" to northwest Kansas was one of my first after an autoimmune disease had left me temporarily paralyzed earlier in the year. After three months in various hospitals, I wrote about my experiences for the center�s newsletter.

I was surprised when after Dole had made some remarks honoring Boyd, he came over directly to me and asked how I was doing. It wasn't until later I realized he must have read the newsletter and so was familiar with what I had gone through.

That meeting apparently also led to a somewhat amusing aftermath. As the president of a large university, Wefald met many people over the course of his days and weeks and knowing who was important was a critical part of his job. I certainly wasn't one of those, but after that episode in Phillipsburg, I noticed he always greeted me by name.

My health problems were nothing compared to Dole's years-long struggle after he was wounded in Italy during World War II. He spent grueling years involving many surgeries and subsequent rehabilitations. He never regained the use of his right arm and so always carried a pen in his right hand so people would know he would be reaching out with his left to shake hands. His experiences inspired him to pursue federal legislation to promote equal opportunities for those with disabilities.

The next time I saw Dole was in October 1999 after I had invited him to be the inaugural speaker for the Huck Boyd Lecture in Community Media. Several K-State officials and I met him at the airport and transported him to campus, where he delivered his "Grassroots Journalism, Grassroots Democracy" speech. Boyd's widow Marie introduced Dole, whom she had known since 1960 when he was at the beginning of his political career. She said, "He was the most candid and honest young man I had ever met ..."

Dole became emotional when he spoke about Huck and Marie and how much he admired them. Dole said the U.S. depends on strong community journalism, including the Boyds' Phillips County Review, to keep its people well-educated and connected to each other. After his lecture at K-State, Dole was one of the Huck Boyd center's staunchest supporters, often showing that support with donations. This pleased me since the mission of the center is to strengthen the community media that help communities thrive.

Although he graduated from the University of Kansas, Dole had many ties to K-State. He was the speaker for the university�s inaugural All-University Open House in 1969. A campus building was dedicated in his honor in 1991.

At Dole's 1999 lecture, he also discussed his book, "Great Political Wit: Laughing (Almost) All the Way to the White House." In the book's Foreword, he talked about his appearances on "The Late Show with David Letterman", "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", "Saturday Night Live" and other comedy programs after his 1996 defeat to Bill Clinton in the presidential race.

"By going on television so soon after my defeat to poke fun at the campaign just concluded, I hoped to shatter the tradition of presidential also-ran silence," Dole said. "Most of all, I wanted to show that there is indeed life after politics. And that losing an election does not mean losing your sense of humor."

Over subsequent years, my contacts with Dole were mostly through letters. I informed him of the lectures, workshops and other activities I was pursuing through the Huck Boyd center, and he always responded with short notes, thanking me for keeping him posted. I also sent him birthday cards. His birth date - July 22 - is easy to remember because that's husband Art's and my anniversary.

Our interests also intersected on another project - the World War II Memorial - for which he was a national fund-raising co-chairman. In the fall of 2004, I traveled to Washington, D.C. with my uncle Stan, who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and his wife Kay. We returned the following fall for Stan's 100th Air Squadron reunion. After that trip, I wrote a note to Dole and sent him a picture of Stan, Kay and me at the memorial. He responded, inviting us to visit him the next time we were in D.C.

The last time I saw Dole was at K-State in September 2016, when he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Service to Rural Kansas from the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development. He looked frail, but he still demonstrated the same wit he always had. When I greeted him, I said he probably didn�t remember me. But he took my hand and said of course he knew me.

Dole went to Congress as a political conservative, but became a moderate. He became very effective at reaching across the aisle to others of different political leanings. While he was a war hero and a statesman, he was also an "everyman" - someone who could relate to and empathize with people across the political and economic spectrum. Kansas has lost a worthy native son.

Top-left: Dole in his service uniform in 1944; top-right: Dole campaigning in Marquette, Kansas in August 1974 for re-election to the Senate; bottom-left: October 1999 photo taken during his lecture at K-State. University President Jon Wefald is at the left and I am at the right; bottom-right: Dole holds his just-published book during the same lecture. Marie Boyd is behind him and the pen he usually held in his right hand can also be seen. (Photo in uniform from ku.edu; Marquette photo from Bryce Loder)

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