President Roosevelt and the Christmas tree


You may have heard that President Roosevelt banned Christmas trees from the White House during his Presidency because he was worried about deforestation.    Did you know that his children however were not as enthralled with the idea!

In 1902, Roosevelt’s two youngest sons, Archie and Quentin, went outside and cut down a smallish tree right there on the White House grounds, snuck back into the White House, and hid it in a closet. The two boys decorated the tree in secret and even enlisted the help of an electrician on staff at the White House to help decorate it with lights. When Christmas morning came, Archie gathered his family outside the closet, turned on the switch, and opened the door to reveal the tree decorated with gifts for the entire family.

Roosevelt later described the incident in a letter to a friend:

“Yesterday Archie got among his presents a small rifle from me and a pair of riding boots from his mother. He won’t be able to use the rifle until next summer, but he has gone off very happy in the riding boots for a ride on the calico pony Algonquin, the one you rode the other day. Yesterday morning at a quarter of seven all the children were up and dressed and began to hammer at the door of their mother’s and my room, in which their six stockings, all bulging out with queer angles and rotundities, were hanging from the fireplace. So their mother and I got up, shut the window, lit the fire (taking down the stockings of course), put on our wrappers and prepared to admit the children. But first there was a surprise for me, also for their good mother, for Archie had a little birthday tree of his own which he had rigged up with the help of one of the carpenters in a big closet; and we all had to look at the tree and each of us got a present off of it. There was also one present each for Jack the dog, Tom Quartz the kitten, and Algonquin the pony, whom Archie would no more think of neglecting that I would neglect his brothers and sisters. Then all the children came into our bed and there they opened their stockings.”

Roosevelt was a devout Christian who also doted on his children.  That Christmas morning was undoubtedly a lesson for everyone!

A special thank you to the for additional insight into this event!

Were you truly Thankful?

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt

Like many, I found myself traveling to a family function for Thanksgiving again this year. My favorite part of the holiday is not the carving of the Turkey or even the pie selection.  It has been consistently the blessing at the start of the meal, where we are asked to reflect on the previous year.  We are asked to think of those lost who are no longer able to be with us at the table and to reflect and be thankful for each other.    I have never taken that blessing lightly, as I truly believe it is important to be thankful .

When I read Roosevelt’s words, I am reminded of this:  What we have should be much smaller than what we give.

As we sat after dinner reading the advertising curriculars for Friday deals, I realized that our perspective of “giving” has changed.  We now believe that a stacking of more gifts under the tree is the measurement of giving – It is not.  The real things that my Grandparents and Parents gave me as gifts are the things that last: character, resourcefulness, courage, honesty and an ability to laugh at myself.  Those don’t come packaged in boxes. They are gifts that are given with love and recirculated to each other and the next generation in the most important way: Deeds.

“Of all the question’s that can come before this great nation……..there is non, which compares in importance to the great central task of leaving this land an even better land for our descendant’s than it is for us”

We should be Thankful for the gifts we have but all must do our part to make sure that we re-gift it again to the future generations.  The gifts I speak do not come in boxes, they come in deeds.


Dare to do mighty things!

Teedie Roosevelt at age 4

“Teedie” Roosevelt at age 4

Obstacles are something we all face in life and learning how to overcome them is an important lesson that helps build who we become.

Theodore Roosevelt was born with Asthma and many physicians at the time believed it was potentially fatal to the young boy.    His broken body meant that much of his time was spent in bed, reading about the thing that he desired most that he could not do – adventure.  His resolve was to find a way first in his mind to imagine adventure and then push his body to make the dream into a reality.

It was his personal drive fueled on by support from his father that allowed him to “Dare to do mighty things”.   If he failed, “at least he failed while daring greatly!”

This message is as important today to our children as it is a reminder to adults: That is important to dream and try and understand that success is not guaranteed but that failure is seldom permanent.

Roosevelt accomplished great things because he tried – and you can too!



Lasting Impact

TR and Lincoln. Photo by Mike Huerkamp

TR and Lincoln.
Photo by Mike Huerkamp

These past few days I had TR camp set up at HistoryFest in Mankato, Minnesota.  This is my 4th year doing so and I really appreciate this event because of its visionary, Jack McGowan.  Jack decided that children who are laughing and playing while also learning will take that more to heart than through a standard history lesson.  This year, he celebrated his 20th year of having history presenters and games at his farm, where local schools bus in 4th graders from across the district and many more across the State.

What is special beyond his vision is his impact.  During the past year, local high school seniors were required to write a paper on something they have done that they felt was highly memorable and special to them.  Twenty five percent of the students wrote their stories on Historyfest.    While that number is impressive, remember this: students in the school district go to the event in 4th grade!  What a testimonial!

We all love great testimonials and thankfully over the years I have been blessed with many from students and teachers.  In reality, Roosevelt is a pretty impressive part of our American heritage and a great role model with fun stories.   But Historyfest proves to me that interactive learning leaves a imprint that lasts longer and creates an impression that children carry with them.  It shows the importance of lessons that include the value of hard work and perseverance that our fathers and forefathers needed to shape our country.  It allows children to find that place that resonates with them so that they can go back to the classroom and research more.  I hope that some students learn that our past leaders may be better measuring sticks for what they will need in the future, as they chose their leaders.

As part of TR Camp, I invite the students into my camp after a talk outside to see inside the tent to understand how the President traveled when he was on Safari or camping.   The tent is full of antiques and TR memorabilia so they have a lot to see!  During this event, I had a young boy who was deep in the back of a class.  When other students went inside, he stayed behind.  I asked him f he was going to look as well.

“I hate history” He told me.

“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it” I said.

“Yeah, I heard that” he said, arms crossed.

We spoke for several minutes, just he and I.   I started to explain to him the lesson of the lemming: That it is sometimes very good to stand alone from the pack and observe, but to observe the important things – the things that will help you in life.   As we spoke man-to-man his arms slowly lowered, his face turned from grimace to grin.  After his class was exiting he went into the camp and once inside asked great questions just as a new class started to gather and sit on my Safari boxes outside for their starting discussion about TR.

“Thank you Mr. Roosevelt” he smiled as he rushed out to catch-up with his class.




Listening to your audience


A story about conservation

A story about conservation

Fall becomes a very busy time of year for me and it really is a balancing act between my “real job” my “fun job” and my “farm job”.    I decided to check in on an event I was unable to attend and in doing so found some 4th grader blogs I didn’t know existed. Thankfully, these students were required to write about what they experienced and it provided me with some insight on what they actually take away from my 40 minutes with them:

“Our next station was a station about Theodore Roosevelt. It was my favorite station. It was the most interesting station there. We learned a lot about him. The guy who talked about him was dressed up as him. He had cool things laying out on the table. There was his knife, his revolvers, and his horse saddle. It was very interesting. He talked about him having asthma when he was little. He also had a lot more to say.”

~ Max’s 4th grade blog

That was fun! Probably my favorite was the pike station, then Teddy Roosevelt, then pottery, then silver smith, then candle making. I loved going to Big Island Rendezvous!

~ Kjersten’s 4th grade blog

Next we went to see Teddy Roosevelt. When we got there he told us how he grew up and what happened in his life. He told us about his famous bear hunt and how he didn’t want to kill the bear.

~ Jack’s 4th grade blog

Whew!  I have perfected my work a great deal over the years by listening to my audience, finding those stories that truly resonate and of course, adding some funny stories into the mix to make sure they leave with smiles on their faces!   These kind of hands-on events really allow kids to experience history in a special way, and I hope they continue to develop programs like these nationally for kids to truly learn to enjoy our shared American heritage.


Theodore Roosevelt’s lesson on living life to the fullest

Teddy roosevelt on a camel

We often take our time here on Earth for granted.   It’s not uncommon for many of us to procrastinate and push something off until tomorrow, especially if we are given tasks really don’t want to do.

Theodore Roosevelt thrived on getting things done.

I believe Roosevelt was so driven because he was at his core an adventurer.  As a child, his asthma forced him to watch life from his bed, his only respite being the books that his family would give him.  TR would lay still and absorb each chapter as he gasped for valuable air to support his broken body. The books that he enjoyed most were those of adventure; stories about young men exploring great things.  These were things he could not do, but dreamed of doing someday.   Reading those books gave him desire, the most powerful driver for truly getting things done.

His father told him when he was a teenager that if he were to survive, he would need to make his body like he had his mind and TR began to exercise his body as he exorcised his asthma.  By the time he left for Harvard, he had proven to himself that he had the drive to overcome obstacles.  He had worked hard to survive, so he understood better than most of us that life is short and we better attack each day as potentially our last.

He would do so for the full 60 years of his life, “doing hard work at work worth doing”.

As I travel and speak as Roosevelt I continue to contemplate his life lessons and integrate them into my own life.  Recently, a friend accused me of living at such a speed that I was acting like I was about to die.    I am as fit as a bull moose but also realistic that life is short and that we need to make the most of it while we are here.

“The worst of all fears is the fear of living” – Theodore Roosevelt.

Take today and start your own movement to live your life to the fullest.

Seeing Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Roosevelt’s eyes

Living the experience

Living the experience

“It was a land of vast silent spaces, of lonely rivers and  plains, where the wild game stared at the passing horseman”. – TR

It’s one thing to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park as a tourist taking in the sites.  It’s a whole different experience trying to visit as Roosevelt, attempting to absorb and understand Roosevelt’s experience and his metamorphosis into a ranch man.

I found myself waking up early and stepping outside to just listen to the wind blowing the tree tops; song birds calling out, seeking their mates.  I watched the colors of the buttes change as the sun painted them or clouds dusted them with shadow.  The key thing I did differently on this visit unlike past visits, was I tried to imagine what Roosevelt was thinking, feeling –  as he sorted out his future without a wife or a mother.  How this land must have looked to him, the quiet solitude so different from a life of fast-paced politics and a growing New York city.

If he was looking for a place that he could hide, to contemplate his future, I can think of no better.

Once down by the Little Missouri, you are surrounded by multi-color canyon walls that isolate you while thirsty cottonwoods shade you.  Birds fill the trees, and the slow gurgle of the water lulls you slightly as you just listen to nature work her wonders.  The air is dry, the ground crunching under you as you step forward, the scent of the sage plants adding a spiritual aroma to the experience.

I thought of TR in his rocking chair on the porch, reading a book but also taking careful inventory in his mind of the animals he could observe.  His memory only slowly eroded of the tragedy of losing his beloved on the same day.  I could imagine sorrow being replaced with hard, rugged work.  The kind of work that is not for a paycheck, but real, honest survival.   This is a harsh land, unforgiving to fools who dare cross it without knowledge: Rattle snakes, quick sand and loose gravel near cliff edges lay in wait to reach out and grab the passerby.    This is the perfect place to find your strength – to test your mettle and push your abilities.   There was little room for error.  If you went out alone without the skills you needed, there was a significant reality that you might never return.  Do or die.

Roosevelt was in mourning.  He was in the right kind of environment that if he wanted to “give up” – the land would gladly accommodate him.  But it is also the kind of place that awakens you as well and thankfully, this is what it did for him.  The challenge for survival was embraced by him and he took it head-on.  Roosevelt would take this lesson and apply it each day for the rest of his life.

He would later say of the experience:  “I would never have become President, if it were not for my time in the Dakota’s”

The badlands are a place each American should visit, and especially those who are interested in Theodore Roosevelt.  They, like him, are rugged, unique and inspiring.




Theodore Roosevelt and Memorial Day

Speaking to the people

Speaking to the people

Memorial Day was agreed to have started in 1866 Waterloo, N.Y. 
As a veteran of the Spanish-American war, Roosevelt was active 
in memorials to fallen American's, and Memorial day observation 
was no exception.  Here are some highlights from a speech at 
Arlington Cemetery he gave on Memorial Day 1902 while President.  
It is important to remember that the aging 
soldiers he addressed had fought in the Civil War.

"It is a good custom for our country to have certain 
solemn holidays in commemoration of our greatest 
men and of the greatest crises in our history. 

There should be but few such holidays. 
To increase their number is to cheapen them. 
Washington and Lincoln the man who did most to 
found the Union, and the man who did most to 
preserve it stand head and shoulders above all our 
other public men, and have by common consent won 
the right to this preeminence. Among the holidays 
which commemorate the turning points in American 
history, Thanksgiving has a significance peculiarly 
its own. On July 4 we celebrate the birth of the 
nation; on this day, the 30th of May, we call to 
mind the deaths of those who died that the nation 
might live, who wagered all that life holds dear 
for the great prize of death in battle, who poured 
out their blood like water in order that the mighty 
national structure raised by the far-seeing genius 
of Washington, Franklin, Marshall, Hamilton, and 
the other great leaders of the Revolution, great 
framers of the Constitution, should not crumble 
into meaningless ruins.
You whom I address to-day and your comrades 
who wore the blue beside you in the perilous years 
during which strong, sad, patient Lincoln bore the 
crushing load of national leadership, performed the 
one feat the failure to perform which would have 
meant destruction to everything which makes the 
name America a symbol of hope among the nations 
of mankind. You did the greatest and most necessary 
task which has ever fallen to the lot of any 
men on this Western Hemisphere. Nearly three 
centuries have passed since the waters of our coasts 
were first furrowed by the keels of those whose 
children s children were to inherit this fair land. 
Over a century and a half of colonial growth followed 
the settlement; and now for over a century 
and a quarter we have been a nation. 

During our four generations of national life we 
have had to do many tasks, and some of them of 
far-reaching importance; but the only really vital 
task was the one you did, the task of saving the 
Union. There were other crises in which to have 
gone wrong would have meant disaster; but this 
was the one crisis in which to have gone wrong 
would have meant not merely disaster but annihilation. 
For failure at any other point atonement 
could have been made; but had you failed in the 
iron days the loss would have been irreparable, the 
defeat irretrievable. Upon your success depended 
all the future of the people on this continent, and 
much of the future of mankind as a whole. 

You left us a reunited country. You left us the 
right of brotherhood with the men in gray, who 
with such courage, and such devotion for what they 
deemed the right, fought against you. But you 
left us much more even than your achievement, 
for you left us the memory of how it was achieved. 
You, who made good by your valor and patriotism 
the statesmanship of Lincoln and the soldiership of 
Grant, have set as the standards for our efforts in 
the future both the way you did your work in war 
and the way in which, when the war was over, you 
turned again to the work of peace. In war and in 
peace alike your example will stand as the wisest 
of lessons to us and our children and our children's 
children. "

This memorial day, attend your local memorial day remembrance. 
Remember, you will be blessed with spending the day with 
friends and family, an opportunity created through a 
sacrifice by others before you.

They want to know and we need to teach them



This past week I had the opportunity to present to hundreds of school children on Roosevelt in Iowa and Nebraska.  While the programs I presented were very different in format and setting, the result was the same – the kids I met were eager to learn.

My Iowa tour was sponsored by many local businesses for the children and adults in Albert City Iowa – a great town with an incredible Library, staff and volunteers who focus on creating cultural events for their community.

The Nebraska event I presented was a outdoor expo, where kids get to try all sorts of activities to get them out into the great outdoors. Events included shooting guns, learning about animals, fishing, camping skills, kayaking  and more.  It was an amazing event and an important one to help increase utilization of parks and the great outdoors.  I was brought into that event thanks to The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and a grant from Nebraska Humanities.

I presented there with my TR Camp. a reproduction of a Teddy Roosevelt hunting camp.

In camp, kids get to immerse themselves in an 1880’s hunting camp experience to learn about conservation and hunting and it’s importance –  from Roosevelt himself!  They get a idea of what it was like to hunt with a President; what he brings and needs for a hunt and; to see and discuss animal skins he collected and what they are used for.  I have done this camp for many years at history events with a very positive response, so I expanded the camp for 2015 and have been booked for a few outdoor expos.  Like other events of this type, there are “School days” and “Public days”.

On the first day after the kids had gone home, I was organizing my camp when a vehicle pulled up and a gentleman walked to my camp and introduced himself as a local elementary school Principal.   He told me he stopped by the camp to visit because when his kids arrived back from the expo, he asked them to tell him their favorite activity at the expo. He expected shooting a shotgun or archery or another activity, but the majority of the kids told him they enjoyed their time with President Roosevelt.  He just wanted me to know.

I smiled a toothy Roosevelt grin as I shook his hand.

I am not telling you this to impress you, I am telling you to impress upon you what I have learned as I have hone my skills in presenting as Roosevelt: Children crave to know things but they need a reason to want to know.  They like hero’s and people they can relate.

Children relate to Roosevelt because he overcame obstacles that they themselves face everyday.  They want reassurance that even though a single day may be hard, that is just a small bump in the road.  They want to know its alright to ask questions; to go on an adventure; to fail.  They want to be part of something big – a shared place where they can have opportunity.  They want what Roosevelt promised – by contributing their skills, they can be something incredibly special in all the world: they can be an American.


Theodore Roosevelt, an insightful mind

Photo by Caleb Gregory

Photo by Caleb Gregory

As a TR, you need to spend a great deal of time reading.  One of my favorite past-times is reading quotes from Roosevelt.  Since he was a prolific author and letter writer (38 books and over 150,000+ letters while President) he has a lot a researcher can review.   The breadth of Roosevelt’s wisdom covers many areas, and I often marvel at his insights.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“Appraisals are where you get together with your team leader and agree what an outstanding member of the team you are, how much your contribution has been valued, what massive potential you have and, in recognition of all this, would you mind having your salary halved”.  

“The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life”.

“If there is not the war, you don’t get the great general; if there is not a great occasion, you don’t get a great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in a time of peace, no one would have known his name”

It is written that Roosevelt could speak to just about anyone and find a common ground, but that his ability to converse with the best minds of the world on complex topics was extraordinary.  Because he was so well read, but more importantly, curious, Roosevelt was able to connect, learn and find value in almost any conversation.   It is something I wish I could do as well.