Sunday, August 18, 2013

Two Teddies in Medora, ND



In September 1883, Theodore Roosevelt came to the Badlands of North Dakota, shot a bison bull, and invested $14,000 in cattle and cowboys, the money inherited from his father’s death nearly five years before.  He returned to New York City, celebrating his twenty-fifth birthday in October and his November re-election to a third one year term in the New York General Assembly.  On February 14, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt watched his mother die from typhoid fever and his wife die of Bright’s disease.

By the summer of 1884, TR was back in the region of Medora in the Dakota Territory, a cattle rancher operating the Chimney Butte/Maltese Cross south of the young village.  The Elkhorn Ranch downstream would soon follow, and TR’s investments eventually ballooned to some $80,000.  That was significant money in 1883-1887.

To know Theodore Roosevelt, you do need to know of his experience in the Badlands.  His response to loss and tragedy was to seek hard work, adventure, strenuous living.  He did that here along the scenic Little Missouri River, hunting the game and birds for the table.  Of course, TR healed, married Edith Carow, and, together, they reared six children. 
 
It is so very fitting that Medora is the gateway to the Southern Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Today, the park teems with bison, elk, wild horses, prairie dogs, and big horn sheep. The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, started by the late North Dakota businessman Harold Schafer and his family and friends, provides in Medora a family centered environment for exploring and celebrating the history and culture of the region.  The Medora Musical, singing and dancing cowboys and cowgirls and more, is just one of many wonderful activities here.

This is my second summer performing in Medora.  I bring TR to life in a daily matinee at the historic Old Town Hall Theatre.  This summer has been quite special for me, as family and friends have visited.  This story is about one of those friends. 

For a year or more, Larry Marple and I have been Facebook friends, Larry having found one of my TR videos on Youtube.  Larry is a veteran elementary school teacher in Springfield, Ohio.  He’s also a fellow TR reprisor. It gets better.  His wife, Julia, portrays Edith Roosevelt, Teddy’s wife.  They married at a Civil War re-enactment in period clothes.  Great, bully stuff.

When I first started doing TR with earnestness and planned our fifty state TR Tour for 2008, I realized that there were other fellows out there across the country who brought  TR to life, each with his own talents, each with his own interpretation.  Some very good ones have passed away.  James Whitmore, no longer reprising his award-winning role in Bully, died in 2009.

I asked my father, who has been a professional comedian since 1971, what he thought about all these other TR’s out there.  He said, “Son, work on your own material and your own craft.  Don’t worry about what the other guy’s gigs are or what his interpretation is like.  Be the best TR Joe you can be and have fun.”  He’s a hippie, but he says a lot of smart things.

I consider all my fellow TR reprisors to be my colleagues, not my competitors.  America needs lots of TRs, visiting schools and libraries, performing in town parks and historic places.  There are hundreds of Abraham Lincolns, and rightly so.  TR himself revered Lincoln.  Should we not have as many Rough Riders as we have Rail Splitters? 

I met Larry Marple for the first time on Wednesday morning at the Dickinson, North Dakota Airport – pretty sure it’s named after Theodore Roosevelt.  Soon we were at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, an overlook of the most stupendous view of the Badlands to the east, west and north on the north side of Interstate 94, just two miles east of Medora.  Larry was in awe of the scenery, and though I have seen it over a hundred times, I was in awe again, too.  These are not the desolate grey Badlands of South Dakota.  These Badlands are full of geological and biological color.  Especially in what has been a wet and cool year, the grasses, sage, scrub oak, and cotton wood are green and verdant.  It is a take-your-breath-away view, and just a portion of what can be seen in the park, around Medora, and at the Bully Pulpit golf course.

In four fun packed days, Larry toured the park at 5AM with outdoor photographer Bill Kingsbury, hiked on the very grounds of TR’s remote Elk Horn Ranch site, hiked a butte, and most especially, performed in character and in costume as Theodore Roosevelt.  It was a great pleasure to have Larry here, and yes, it was a little surreal, too.  For Larry is a very good TR, full of interesting and accurate information.  He has the right look, too.  It was a doppleganger moment.

My father always lived and demonstrated the kind of collegiality one might hope existed in more areas of competitive enterprise.  Anytime a comedian was in my father’s audience, my father would invite the friend and colleague up for a guest set, a chance to say hello to the room.  I was determined to make a guest set happen for my friend, Larry. 

Larry and I had great fun when, for the first time, to our knowledge, in the long history of the universe, two Teddy Roosevelts appeared and performed on stage at the same time.  As an homage to the many people who make Medora work, we surprised nearly every one of the 150 or so audience members who attended a post Medora  Musical comedy show at the Old Town Hall Theatre.  The show starred comedian Kermet Opio and host/magician Bill Sorenson.  Let’s just say at the beginning of the show, a magic trick went bad and poof, there were TWO Teddy Roosevelts on stage.  Larry and I had fun, and everyone was blown away.  Today, I performed my regular matinee, and found a way to have Larry come on stage as TR and tell the audience all about the war in Cuba and the run for the Governorship of New York.  Larry was a big hit, I finished the show, and the audience saw something, again, that nobody has ever seen before. 

Well, Larry Marple is headed back to the classroom in Springfield, I think renewed in both his vigor for the school months ahead and for the many opportunities that he and Julia have to bring TR and Edith to life all across the country and here in Medora.

We are colleagues, and now true and real friends.

If you know someone who brings TR to life or someone who would like to learn more about doing so, have them get a hold of me, for we would like them to come to Medora and catch a bit of the Bully Spirit!

Friday, July 12, 2013

American Legion Boys State & Girls State

Every summer, high school juniors from around the state of North Dakota, gather for a week of civics known as North Dakota Boys State and North Dakota Flickertail Girls State.  Indeed, students gather in every state, half the students assigned to one political party and half to a second party, usually Nationalists and Federalists.  Students set up and elect city, county and state governments via conventions and elections.  Two United States Senators are chosen from each Boys State and each Girls State to attend Boys Nation and Girls Nation in Washington, D.C.  It is terrific fun, and America owes a great debt to the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary, which have been running these Americanism and Youth programs since the 1930’s.  Former North Dakota Boys Staters include Coach Phil Jackson and North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer, now Chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.  Many a leader had his or her start as a Boys Stater or Girls Stater.

This summer, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation was delighted to send Theodore Roosevelt to Boys State in Wahpeton and Girls State in Grand Forks to entertain and inspire the nearly 300 delegates, counselors and volunteers involved in the two programs.  In his own youth, our Theodore Roosevelt reprisor, Joe Wiegand, was elected Governor of Illinois Premiere Boys State and President of the American Legion Boys Nation program.  “The American Legion gave me scholarships for college,” says Wiegand, “and I have always wanted to give back and help the Boys State and Girls State programs grow.  Besides, there may have been a real future Governor, Senator or President among those young men and women.  It was truly an honor.”  Wiegand says citizens can contact their local American Legion Post for ways to support the programs.
Medora’s Theodore Roosevelt with the officers of North Dakota Boys State, held at North Dakota State College of Science at Wahpeton. Left to Right – Neil Litton, Director (Fargo); Christian Anheluk, Disaster Emergency Manager (Belfield); Jordan Beattie, the Senate Pro Tem (Pembina); Deane Bjornson, State Auditor (Cavalier); Andrew Brummond, Superintendent of Public Instruction (Park River); Benjamin Trenne, Attorney General (Grand Forks); Ray Salata, Governor (Grand Forks); Col. Theodore Roosevelt; Erik Hanson, Lieutenant Governor (Grand Forks); Brandt Vernon, Secretary of State (Hazen); Trenton McCloud, State Treasurer (Rolla); Ryan Nelson, Public Service Commissioner (Casselton); Trevor Boehm, Agriculture Commissioner (McClusky).  Mr Salata and Mr. Anheluk were elected to represent North Dakota as it two United States Senators at the American Legion Boys Nation program held July 19-26 in Washington, D.C.

After a visit from Medora’s Theodore Roosevelt, the Flickertail Girls Staters held their elections on the campus of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.  The results: Governor Hayley Lund – Crosby; Lt. Governor Morgan Mathison – Walhalla; Secretary of State Bethany Brumbaugh – Cavalier; Auditor Hannah Colemer – Forman; Treasurer Hannah Krauter - West Fargo; Attorney General Katelyn Osland – Fargo; Commissioner of Insurance Kendal Hendrickson – Cando; Commissioner of Agriculture Abby Braaten – Wyndmere; Tax Commissioner Kara Smith – Buffalo; Public Service Commissioner Anne Hefta – Hazen; Public Service Commissioner Anna Rand - Park River; Public Service Commissioner Kady Rath – McClusky; Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Strube – Dickingson; Supreme Court Justice Kaytlin Werth – McClusky; Supreme Court Justice Julia Hartz – Cavalier; Supreme Court Justice Raechelle Salzer – Ashley; Supreme Court Justice Jessica Mastel – Wahpeton; Superintendent of Instruction Tyrza Hoines – Bismarck.  North Dakota’s United States Senators headed to Girls Nation are Hayley Lund of Crosby and Hershita Gaba of Fargo.  Girls Nation will also be held in Washington, D.C. from July 20-27.

While Joe Wiegand continues to tour the state and the nation performing as Theodore Roosevelt and as a Goodwill Ambassador for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, you can still find him in Medora, every Monday through Saturday, in a one man show, “A TR Salute to Medora,” at 3:30 P.M. Mountain in the air-conditioned Old Town Hall Theatre in downtown Medora through September 6.  On Saturdays in July, from 1:00 to 2:30 P.M., Wiegand will also be performing and signing copies of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1913 Autobiography at Medora’s Western Edge Book Store, 425 Fourth Street in Medora. On Saturday's in August, from 9:00 to 10:30AM, Wiegand will greet visitors at the South Unit and Painted Canyon National Park Visitor Centers.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

American Heroes


“No man needs sympathy because he has to work, because he has a burden to carry. Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” 
Theodore Roosevelt 

 

I'd just considered adding a ten dollar bill to my outstretched hitchhiking thumb, when the North American moving van honked from behind me.  I grabbed my computer bag and my backpack and ran for the ride that waited fifty yards down the shoulder of Florida Highway 331, headed south from I-10 and DeFuniak Springs towards the beaches of the Gulf Coast a half hour away.

I tossed my bags up to the helping hands of the two man crew in the cab.  The driver is Michael Underhill, IV, of Beaverton, Pennsylvania.  Somewhere in those productive years known as one’s thirties, Mike owns his truck and was in recent years named National Driver of the Year for North American Van Lines.  A friendly and talkative fellow, Mike is third generation in the moving business and third or fourth generation military.  There was a strength and confidence about Mike, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that he had spent three and a half years in the United States Marines.

Chris was a young fellow, the son of family friends who were also in the moving business.  Mike was taking Chris on board his operation, giving Chris a chance to learn the business from another point of view.  Chris’ own dad had been Driver of the Year just prior to Mike.

I was happy to know that Mike wasn’t just headed to the coast, but he, too, was then going west on Florida 98. His destination was the house of a Navy man and his family, transferred from San Diego to Pensacola very nearby to the Ft. Walton Beach Greyhound station where an early evening bus would be my way to Beaumont, Texas. 

Mike would make me a deal.  If I would help him and Chris unload the items for the Navy man, he and Chris would then take me right to the door of the Greyhound Station.  Bully.  A Square Deal.  Rotary’s Four Way Test.  Neighborliness.  The Good Samaritan, for sure.  But it gets better.

I shared with Mike and Chris the interesting sometimes crazy nature of my itinerary, especially the events that led me to thumb a ride on this fine day.  I was a highlight entertainment at the Florida Chautauqua in DeFuniak Springs on Friday afternoon and again on Saturday evening.  In between, I drove 700 miles to Beaumont, Texas, arriving at 1AM Saturday, ready to deliver a keynote address to the North American Rotary Large Club Conference at 11:30AM.  After the speech, I drove my car to the Greyhound station in Vidor, Texas, and my customer arranged for a colleague to fly me back to DeFuniak Springs in his Beechcraft airplane, just in time for my Saturday 6PM performance.  Worked like a dream.  Now, I had to get back to my car in Texas for the drive home to Sewanee. 

I explained to Mike and Chris that my Uncle George Prager, after a tour in Vietnam, hitchhiked from San Diego back to the Midwest.  I had grown up with this lore, and, as a result, spent much of my college years hitchhiking across the country, sometimes for romance, sometimes as just the best way to get across the country for $10.  I said that when people asked me if I was scared of the crazies or frightened on the open road, I said no, and that I wasn’t going to be a part of letting the crazies win on this point of people helping people. 

I related that once, after several hours in the dark and cold winter on the side of Interstate 70 in the middle of nowhere Ohio, I had promised the Good Lord that if He just sent me a ride, an angel of any type, I would promise to pick up hitchhikers when I had the chance.  I didn’t even own a car, so it was an easy promise to make.  The ride eventually came, as it always did.  Ninety-nine folks out of one hundred were just delightful, some plain, but most evidencing the wonderful variety of personality and character that is all about us.  The one or two scrapes weren’t really that bad.  Only once did I have to quickly say, “You can let me out right here.”

I confessed to Mike and Chris that I had broken that promise to God.  I will occasionally pick up a hitch hiker, especially if it is one of those obvious situations of a break down or someone who has run out of gas.  When I’m travelling alone, the typical hitchhiker is likely to get a ride, if my passenger seat isn’t packed full of books, maps and computer bags.  But these days, my passenger seat is always packed full, and whether it’s because I’m going too fast in the far left lane or because the hitchhiker just looks a little too desperate, a little too dirty, I’m just not likely to offer a ride, my first and most important job being to make it home safely to wife and daughter.  I had earlier told Mike that I was surprised he picked me up, as so many trucking firms, frightened by the liability implications, have forbidden drivers to be the angels of the road that American lore might lead us to believe they are.  (Non sequitur: My sister Joy’s favorite karaoke song is Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” where “Bobby thumbs an old diesel down.”)

Mike then proceeds to give me a brotherly lesson in the wonderfully uplifting dynamic of man’s faith in his fellow man.  You see, Mike says that his experience is that that guy who looks the worst, who needs a shower and a shave, he’s also likely the guy that just needs a chance, a hand up as firm as the hand that helped me up into that cab.

Mike shared story after story of guys he had picked up hitchhiking, who he in turn had given a chance to work on his truck as part of his crew.  It’s rather simple work, as I discovered.  The customer’s items have all been inventoried and stickered.  As items are brought down the truck ramp, an inventory number is told to the customer, who, in turn, checks the number off the inventory sheet and instructs where he would like things stacked.  Mike likes his guys to reassemble any furniture or other items that had to be taken apart to ship.  Ours was a little job.  In half an hour several dozen boxes, plastic bins and Navy duffel bags were unloaded.  A desk and appliances were the biggest items and a dryer panel had to be reattached.  No drops, no errors, and as Mike said, most importantly, nothing missing.

So, Mike says he’s probably picked up somewhere north of a hundred hitchhikers.  There’s nothing out of whack here.  Mike is married with children at home.  Whatever his motivations, Mike is really just giving these guys a chance.  Some turn out bad with problems of drugs or alcohol that can’t be tolerated, though Mike strikes me as the kind of guy that would even try to help a guy find help there.  Some of the guys Mike has helped, some of the guys who looked and smelled the worst and who seemed at wits’ end for what life had given them and for what they’d done themselves, well some of those guys got on their feet, got good jobs, sometimes in the warehouses and freight yards that are such an important part of Mike’s trade.

Mike’s grandfather, Michael P. Murvihill, Jr., a World War II veteran, is still alive.  Grandpa Mike was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 508th Paratrooper Regiment.  In an effort to blow up a bridge behind German lines, Mr. Underhill and 49 of his fellow Americans began their mission.  Forty seven men died.  Two were taken prisoner by the Germans.  Mr. Underhill accomplished the mission, blew up the bridge, and by some means was taken in by Italian troops, who changed sides towards the end of the war, eventually making his way back to his regiment.

Mike’s service as a civilian likely lets him enjoy freedom and opportunity a great deal more than his three plus years of order-taking as a Marine.  Freedom and opportunity vouched safe by the sacrifices made by his grandfather, his Vietnam era vet father, and by all who have served.

In his own way, the way he lives his life today, Mike is helping to make this the country we all hope it will be;  where being helped doesn’t necessarily mean enrolling in some government hand out, instead opting for a hand up and a hard day’s work that comes as part of the self-respecting deal.

Good man.  Good ride.  Pass it on.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Travels With Faith


In an hour or two, I’ll finally have the car loaded.  Like Santa, I’ll check my list twice, not to find out who is naughty and who is nice, but rather to make sure I have everything necessary for ten days on the road. In addition to the obvious things like warm clothes, bedding, food, water, maps and more, bringing Teddy Roosevelt to life means tuxedos and top hats, teddy bears and pocket watches, pince nez glasses and a pile of books to rival TR’s own “pig skin library,” a collection of good books that would be well stained with animal blood and gun oil by the end of his African safari.

I travel the country, bringing my interpretation of Theodore Roosevelt to life for audiences of all sorts.  After a career in Illinois politics, I’m having a great deal of fun and providing for my family.  My father is a professional comedian.  Years ago, he quoted another comic.  “They don’t pay us to perform; they pay us to drive.”  I guess being on the road and entertaining is in my blood.  Interestingly, Jenny’s grandfather travelled the Midwest with a theatre troupe many years ago.

In 1976, the year of our nation’s bicentennial celebration, my mom and dad sold our home in Elmhurst, a Chicago suburb.  With boys aged 15, 13, 11 and 1, they packed a Ford Econoline 250 half full of belongings, topped this pile with a mattress and sleeping bags and headed for a new life in Hollywood, California.  Our trip West included the inspiration of Mount Rushmore and the mystery of the Badlands of South Dakota.  Our first night on the Pacific Ocean is frozen in time in a pastel sunset sketched by my mother, the three older boys silhouetted between the rays of the setting sun and the flames of the bonfire on the beach.  Our Hollywood adventures, renovating a burned out house of ill repute into a rooming house for artists, named Whig’s Place, was the stuff of comedy screen plays.  In true hippie fashion, a baby sister would be born in the upstairs apartment the following year.  The doctor and nurse for the planned home delivery were stuck somewhere in LA traffic.  Mom was a pro and “Baby Joy” made her first appearance with a comedian father and an actress tenant as stand ins for the doc and the nurse.

In 1981, I joined Mom and Dad and my two younger siblings in another cross country journey.  The two older brothers, then 20 and 18 and working in the trades, would stay in California.  This trip was different.  Pops had developed a new comedic persona, The Little Guy.  It was a mix of Will Rogers and George Carlin with a common man’s view of political and social issues as its mainstay.  To promote the character, Pops designed a cross country adventure called “Walkin’ Proud, Talkin’ Loud for America.”  The Ford Econoline was returned to duty, this time towing a large, home built trailer, decked out in red, white and blue.  Our plan was to travel from LA to Washington, DC, to celebrate our country, patriotism and citizenship.  We left LA on July 4 and arrived at the White House on September 17, Citizenship Day, the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution.  Along the way we collected thousands of postcards, written in their own words, from Americans, young and old, to President Ronald Reagan, newly installed in his first term that January.  You may remember, there was a rebirth of patriotism and optimism during that year.  As we travelled, Reagan recuperated from being shot, Sandra Day O’Conner became our first Supreme Court Associate Justice and two Libyan jets were downed over the Gulf of Sidra.

Our Walkin’ Proud adventure was a great thrill.  At the age of 16, I was given the duties of advance man and public relations agent.  Our twenty-two state, one hundred and sixty city tour included appearances at state fairs, meetings with mayors and governors, lots of newspaper and local television coverage and, the day before our arrival in DC, a live family appearance on the Today Show.  The next day, I circled the White House driving the van and towing the trailer while Dad tried to convince the Secret Service and the White House staff that we really did have an appointment to see President Reagan.  Unfortunately, by the time we got things straightened out, President Reagan had flown to Michigan to dedicate the Gerald Ford Library.  We toured the White House; got to see the Oval Office and Cabinet Room.  President Reagan sent a very nice thank you letter to us in Palatine, Illinois, where we settled with family, licked our wounds and circled the wagons for the next adventure.

For me, the next adventures were at Palatine High School and, eventually, at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.  Several times during those college years, I would hitch hike across the country, mostly alone, once with a friend to California and back to Tennessee.  As a cross country runner in college, inspired by the cross Canada run attempted by Terry Fox, I decided to run some ultra-marathons.  “Marathon a Day for the United Way” was a 182 mile, seven day adventure from the Mississippi River at Savannah, Illinois, to Chicago, zig-zagging through the suburbs.  Team-mates joined me in Tennessee for 60 mile one day and 100 mile two day runs for multiple sclerosis.  In many ways, I was expressing my own love for the road, for sleeping beneath the stars and for seeing America up close.

My adventures and education at Sewanee and the beneficence of the Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Foundation gave me another amazing chance to travel and explore.  In 1987 and 1988, I travelled to Costa Rica, South Africa, Italy, the Philippines and South Korea, interviewing members of the national parliaments in each of those countries.  My bride Jenny joined me part way through in Italy after she finished a teaching contract.  She missed the 600 mile hitch hike from Cape Town to Johannesburg, but we were successful in putting our thumbs out for a round trip Rome to Florence.

Settled back in Illinois for graduate school and careers, we did things a little differently.  In the rural countryside of DeKalb County, we purchased an old country church and lived in the building while family joined us in renovations to make it a beautiful home.  Informed by the Whig’s Place adventure and inspired by Dad’s coffee table book “Converted into Houses,” a photographic collection of schools, barns, depots and churches that made lovely homes, we jumped in.  We were young.  We didn’t even ask what it cost to heat the place.  The church had gone broke trying to heat the place one day a week.

The old church in Fairdale was home for nearly twenty years.  Amazingly, five years before we purchased the church, I had stopped next door for a drink of water on my cross Illinois marathon.  My younger brother and sister joined us there to finish high school.  Our daughter Sam spent her first seven years there.  Buying the old commercial property next door and launching an antique mall and a business incubator was the next adventure, and the endless list of maintenance and yard work took its toll physically and financially.

 In 2005 and 2006, I spent thirteen months running the campaign of a Republican aspirant for the Illinois governorship.  The campaign cycle previous to that, I had been a candidate for the Republican nomination to the State House.  Both campaigns were exhausting, competitive and losing efforts.  I bumped through 2007, launching a taxpayer organization that helped defeat a new tax for a new layer of government.  Late in 2007, as a favor to a friend, I took a contract to assemble and lead the Illinois delegation for presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.  Three months with very little sleep for very little pay.  As the presidential primary concluded in Illinois in early February, 2008, my wife and I finished the last of our thrown together plans for a great, new adventure.  With our daughter and our golden retriever, Faith, we would travel the 48 continental states in an RV, celebrating the 150th birthday of President Theodore Roosevelt and the final centennial year of his historic presidency.  I would research TR along the way, visit the places associated with his life and legacy, and, where possible, engage performance opportunities that might help make ends meet along the way.

Like the experience at Whig’s Place, the Great 2008 TR Tour has all the stuff of a comedy screen play.  Adventures and misadventures abound.  Of course, the trip culminated with a live entertainment in the East Room of the White House for President and Mrs. George W. Bush on TR’s 150th birthday.  We celebrated in our DC hotel until 4AM.  At 8AM, I was showcasing for the US Forest Service in Northern Virginia.  After the tour, we settled in Sewanee, Tennessee.  We haven’t looked back and the adventures continue.

As a family, we took a test drive of the TR Tour in late 2007, travelling to the Northeast.  Now, with a schedule for 2013 that is already busting at the seams, I begin my fifth straight year of TR touring.  Wife and daughter have real lives now and join me when the schedule allows and when the climate and location offer sufficient enticements. 

Today, as I finish packing for a ten day adventure to the Grand Canyon and back, something is different.  I’m taking Faith, our golden retriever with me, despite the protests of wife and daughter who stay behind for work and school.  My travels with Faith begin.  I’m hoping that having Faith along will remind me to hike some of the trails and swim some of the lakes along the way.  I’m hoping that Faith will help me to see each new day with the enthusiasm and energy that she still shows at the age of nine.  Soon, she’ll leap off the back porch and give chase to that squirrel who knows just how fast to run and climb to survive the charge.  Never discouraged, Faith leaps into the day.  Travels with Faith.

Yes, Travels with Faith is a tribute to Travels with Charlie, John Steinbeck’s late in life travelogue featuring his poodle Charlie.  I’m hoping that Travels with Faith will also provide me with opportunity and discipline to write some stories, from the past and from adventures yet to come.  Thanks for reading through this.  I hope to see you down the trail.

 

 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Birthday, Daniel Boone (b. November 2, 1734)

In Winning of the West, Volume 1, Theodore Roosevelt writes:

“With Boon, hunting and exploration were passions, and the lonely life of the wilderness, with its bold, wild freedom, the only existence for which he really cared. He was a tall, spare, sinewy man, with eyes like an eagle’s, and muscles that never tired; the toil and hardship of his life made no impress on his frame, unhurt by intemperance of any kind, and he lived for eighty-six years, a backwoods hunter to the end of his days.  His thoughtful, quiet, pleasant face, so often portrayed, is familiar to everyone; it was the face of a man who never blustered or bullied, who would neither inflict nor suffer any wrong, and who had a limitless fund of fortitude, endurance, and indomitable resolution upon which to draw when fortune proved adverse.  His self-command and patience, his daring, restless love of adventure, and, in time of danger, his absolute trust in his own powers and resources, all combined to render him peculiarly fitted to follow the career of which he was so fond.”
TR wrote that Boone’s Birthday was August 22nd, Britannica notes October 22nd, and my history book and Wikipedia put the date as November 2.  I await a note back from the Boone Society.
In any case, TR named his fair hunting and conservation organization Boone & Crockett, after the two intrepid frontiersman.  It’s a good thing to know more about real American heroes of bygone days.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Twelve Days with Teddy - It's Hard to Hit a Moving Target


To give a little context to the quick travelogue below, I am posted for the summer in the Badlands of North Dakota, loving the opportunity to perform a daily TR matinee from 4-5PM Monday thru Friday.  I’ll be returning to Medora in summer 2013.  Between now and then, I will tour the country in a 2011 Ford Flex we are dubbing the Medora Mobile.  The beautiful ride will be festooned with graphics and logos telling the Medora story. 

Since I drove my 2004 Honda Accord to North Dakota, and since that car was just turning 300,000 miles and beginning to give up its transmission, I decided on quick notice to drive my car to DeKalb County, Illinois, where my mechanic would gladly buy it at a very low dollar.  I could drop by and surprise the alumni of the Roosevelt Military Academy gathering in Rock Island on my way.  That’s the sort of fun I go for, and this seemed to be the solution for the dilemma of what to do with two cars in the Badlands, needing only one to drive away.  Here goes:

The Friday afternoon matinee performance in Medora, North Dakota, was like so many others – fun for me because the audiences are great.  When the show was over at 5 PM Mountain, I began to drive east on I-94.  I drove, and I drove.  Through the night with a brief nap somewhere, I took I-35 south from Minneapolis-St.Paul and via Cedar Rapids and a visit to the Herbert Hoover Museum, eventually to Rock Island, Illinois.  Saturday evening performance for the All Class Reunion of the Roosevelt Military Academy in Aledo, Illinois – great stories here.  Drive to Fairdale, Illinois, and leave my old Honda Accord with my mechanic at 2AM on Sunday.  Take a beautiful 3 hour, ten mile hike to the Clock Tower in Rockford, Illinois.   Catch the 6AM bus to Madison, Wisconsin.  My dad picks me up and takes me to the train in Tomah, after a nice visit with brother, Josh and sister-in-law, Amy.  Take the 6PM Amtrak train back west to Williston, ND, arriving Williston at 10 AM Mountain, Monday.  One taxi and two hitch hike rides later, I made it the 150 miles to Medora, with a half hour to spare before my 4PM show. 
After the show, I hitch hiked the 16 miles to Belfield.  Tuesday morning, I hitchhiked first to Dickinson, then to the Bismarck Airport, a total of 120 miles.  My second ride was from a guy who was going to be on the same flight!  Tuesday 11AM fly to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Midway-Chicago and Manchester, New Hampshire, changing planes for each flight and arriving Tuesday night at 10:30PM.  Rental car.  Drive to Portland, Maine.  At 9AM on Wednesday, after a few hour sleep in the car somewhere, shave and change into TR’s tramping about costume in a McDonalds restroom.  Greet guests and interact on Mackworth Island in Falmouth, ME.  Attend events at Evergreen Cemetery and Baxter Woods.  5:30PM reception at the Maine Historical Society, TR performance at 7PM.  Drive to Baxter State Park in the Northwoods region of Maine.  Sleep in the car somewhere.  Arrive Baxter State Park afternoon of Thursday, camp at Moose Wood on Kidney Pond, swim in Kidney Pond, and share a performance at 7PM in the camp lodge house.   Friday morning, climb Sentinel Mountain on the southeast side of Kidney Pond and swim the pond after.  Friday at 6PM begin driving south on I-95. 
Saturday morning, after a nap in the car somewhere, arrive at the brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s house in West Hartford, CT.  Swam the pool and played basketball and some sort of “drown your uncle” ball with the nephews.  Great family fun Saturday night.  Sunday morning, drive to Newbury, New Hampshire, change into costume and perform at 4PM reception through 6PM dinner.  Saw Sewanee friend Fred Sheperd and his mom, Mary, and the grandparents of one of Jenny’s dual sport players. 
After the Sunday evening performance, I drive to Manchester, New Hampshire.  Great middle of the night breakfast at the Airport Diner and a brief food coma nap in the car after.  Monday, 6AM flight from Manchester, to Chicago-Midway, to Minneapolis-St.Paul, to Bismarck, each flight a different plane.  Arrived Bismarck at 2PM Mountain, and Medora friend Van Larson gives me a fast ride to Medora, arriving 1 minute before my 4PM matinee.  Monday night, I attempt to hitch hike to Belfield, but it’s a comedy of errors, as I head back too early to take a nap in my dressing room. 
First thing, 6AM Tuesday morning, I hitch a ride to Belfield.  I clean up and have breakfast, water the flowers, and begin the 16 mile bike ride into Medora.  Arrive Medora in an hour and a half, play basketball with Baskhar from India, swim, perform matinee for a great audience.  After dinner, I bike 16 miles back to Belfield, arriving just at dusk, headlight and tail light blazing!  Home sweet home just in time to watch Ann Romney and have a PBR with Chris Christie. 
Twelve days, seven plus performances in four states, thirty-six hundred miles by plane, two thousand miles by auto, eight hundred miles by train, three hundred miles hitch-hiking, one hundred and eighty miles of rides from family and friends, and thirty-two miles by bike.  Nearly seven thousand miles, probably done in a manner nobody else has ever done. Crazy fun.

Time to get on the bike and head into work!  Medora Mobile ready next week.
Check out www.medora.com

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pelican Island Wildlife Festival is a very special time for us as a family. When I left a twenty-five year career in public policy behind in my native Illinois, and TR Joe and the Teddy Roosevelt Tour first became a reality, it was mid-February 2008. During the second week of March, my wife Jenny was playing golf in the Florida Women’s Open Tournament. I was her caddy and Sam her loyal fan.

We were rv camping somewhere nearby Tampa in a nice state park. The barred owls and
sandhill cranes abounded, as did the ibis, the egret and the heron along the way. And the pelican.

My research all pointed to Pelican Island as the next stop for the TR Tour. When I called the Wildlife Service office in Vero Beach, I reached Ranger Joanna Webb and she was so nice to
invite my family to come and play a role in the Wildlife Festival planned that very next weekend.

From that first visit on, through the following years, the kindness and hospitality we received at Pelican Island characterizes just the sort of thing we try to pass on to others. At the
Pelican Island Wildlife Festival in Sebastian’s City Park, we celebrate the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt’s first federal bird sanctuary, declared in March of 1903.

The bird and reptile programs, repeated throughout the day, are always informative and entertaining, with the stars kids just love to touch and stare at. Exhibitors sell all sorts of fun
Florida items, many of them organic or nature based. Rehabilitated pelicans are returned to the wild, kayaks are paddled and yummy foods eaten. Music and dancing have been known to occur. Public servants share their conservation message. It's always a great day.

Mostly, the volunteers of the Pelican Island Preservation Society and the rangers and staff of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service get together to spend more than a day of hard work hosting one of the nation’s most wonderful celebrations of Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation legacy.

Bully for PIPS. Hope to see you on Saturday, March 17, 2012, in Sebastian, Florida.

http://firstrefuge.org/events/wildlifefestival/