Something exciting is happening at Dickinson State University, where researchers are in the process of digitizing “Everything Roosevelt” for the Theodore Roosevelt Center.
Sharon Kilzer, project manager, explains:
The Theodore Roosevelt Center was created at Dickinson State University in 2008 when it was approved by the State Board of Higher Education.
Although Roosevelt is one of the top five Presidents in any Presidential poll, Kilzer says, he does not have a presidential library where his materials are gathered.
“The presidential library system started in the mid-twentieth century,” Kilzer said. “The first president to have one is president Hoover, and every president since then has had one. It is now required by law – when they leave office, their materials are deposited in a Presidential library. That’s because these materials belong to the American public and must be made available to them for research and study.
“Unfortunately Presidents before Herbert Hoover did not have such an organization, and that’s what we are trying to do for Theodore Roosevelt.”
Most of those Presidents have a physical center, but presidents before Hoover have materials scattered across the country. In Roosevelt’s case, the largest collection of materials are in the Library of Congress, where he deposited them there before his death and his family added to this after his passing. The next largest collection is at his alma mater, Harvard University, and the third largest collection belongs to the National Park Service, scattered among the sites that are dedicated to Roosevelt.
Those entities are not going to give up their physical materials, but they will offer them to be photographed and scanned for the Theodore Roosevelt Center website, theodorerooseveltcenter.org.
“There is no way to create a Presidential library after the mold of today’s Presidential libraries, but because of today’s digital revolution we are able to create a digital library,” Kilzer said. “And in some ways the Theodore Roosevelt digital library is better than a physical Presidential library. The only people who can go to a physical Presidential library are those with the time and means to do so, but our collection is entirely on line, and available from computer.”
The John F. Kennedy library is also attempting to create a comprehensive digital collection.
“When we started to work with the library… I was at a Presidential Sites and Library Conference and I was reall overwhelmed,” Kilzer said. “Roosevelt wrote more than any other President to his time. He wrote over 150 thousand Presidential letters, 40 books and then you have all the things that people wrote to him and all the artifacts. I thought, ‘How are we ever going to do this?’”
So where does one begin on such a large project?
“Because the Library of Congress has such a large collection, we started by setting up a meeting with the Library of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress,” Kilzer said. “At the time, Senator Dorgan arranged that meeting for Clay S. Jenkinson [Lead Consultant and Theodore Roosevelt Humanities Scholar] and Dr. Lee Vickers, president of Dickinson State University. Among those at this meeting was Dr. James Hutson, Chief of the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress. Dr. Hutson embraced the project early on and became an advocate for it. Again, Senator Dorgan assisted us by getting an appropriation for this project, not to DSU, but to the Library of Congress, to digitize the Theodore Roosevelt materials.
Dr. Vickers sought to set this regional institution apart from others. One of the significant historical and cultural features of this region is the fact that Roosevelt spent several years here during his youth.
“What is the legacy Theodore Roosevelt left here and how could we understand that more fully?” Kilzer said. “The Theodore Roosevelt Honors Leadership Program is located here, which draws on leadership principles. That was first. It draws nearly 100 high- achieving students to DSU each year. Dr. Vickers also started a conversation with Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, the State Historical Society of North Dakota and the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame about how the university could support and complement their work, particularly as it relates to Theodore Roosevelt.”
Clay Jenkinson and Sharon both moved to the area in 2005, and that is when the project got off and started. Out of this came the first annual Theodora Roosevelt Symposium.
A project recently began to gather everything within the state of North Dakota, including from private entities. The Roosevelt Inn in Watford City, for example, has a substantial personal collection. Displayed on the walls of the hotel are original Roosevelt items, including the cover of a major newspaper on the day Roosevelt died.
“Digitizing is the process of photographing or scanning the items, and the owners not having to lose their collectibles, so most are very willing to help in our project,” Kilzer said. “They of course are given full credit on the website for the materials they share.”
Cleo and Joan Boschee of Wishek, who have been collecting Roosevelt items for more than 50 years, own the other private collection within the state.
“In time of course we are hoping to have a physical museum/center as some people are choosing to donate physical items to the project,” Kilzer added.
How long will this project take?
“Within a decade we will have a significant portion of the Roosevelt materials digitized,” Kilzer said. “Yet there will always be new discoveries and work to be done, interpreting the collection.”
Kilzer is the daughter of Werner and Edith Kilzer of Bentley and the 12th of 14 children. Her education started in the one room country school outside of Bentley. She finished high school at Mott/Lincoln school at age 16. At DSU she studied Business Administration. She received a masters in Theology and Christian Ministries at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
Soon it was back to North Dakota, where she worked as the pastoral associate at St. Patrick’s in Dickinson for a little more than a year. She then returned to Steubenville, working as secretary to the president at Franciscan University. Wanting to pursue a further degree, she returned to DSU and got her teaching degree in 2002. She taught in Glen Ullin and in Linton.
“While I was teaching in Linton, I started working for Ackers College in Bismarck (now Rasmussen’s) and was teaching accounting in the evenings online.,” Kilzer said.
The position came open at DSU in the president’s office. She applied and was hired.
Sharon now lives just a half-block from the University and next to her church, St Patrick’s, where she still works in their music ministry.
“I love what I do,” she said. “Coming to work is not a job, but my passion.”