A steady stream of visitors filed into the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence on Monday to wish the former U.S. senator a happy 90th birthday, recalling him as a man of leadership and compromise.
“I think he’s still very relevant today,” said Mark Pickerel, 45 of Lawrence. “He’s still a voice for bipartisanship and common sense.”
The event on the campus of the University of Kansas featured cake and giant greeting cards. Dole was a student at the university before joining the Army in World War II. The former senator was not in attendance.
The institute opened in 2003 as a repository for Dole’s papers from his political career and for other memorabilia. The walls are lined with photographs from his war years, including his recovery from wounds suffered in Italy, through his rise in politics.
The Russell native served in the U.S. Senate from 1969 until he resigned in 1996 to run for president as the Republican nominee. He lost to Democratic incumbent Bill Clinton.
Dole was President Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976. The pair closed the race in the final weeks, losing to Democrat Jimmy Carter by 2 percentage points, but the campaign put Dole on the national stage for the next two decades.
Bob Wiklund toured the institute with his parents. He recalled working for Dole in the 1990s and seeing firsthand how Dole worked with others in the Senate, holding to his conservative Kansas values but able to reach out for compromise.
“I think he was a fantastic negotiator who could reach across the aisle to get things done,” said Wiklund, 46, now of Birmingham, England. “We need more of it.”
Gary Hanson, 74, of Overland Park, remembered a time when his son was a child and flew on a plane alone. Dole was also on the flight and made sure to sit with the boy, helping him get on and off the plane then sending a note back to Hanson checking on the boy.
“That’s one thing that makes me have a soft spot for him,” Hanson said. “Too bad he didn’t get to president.”