Dare Greatly, Think Boldly: An interview with Ed O’Keefe

The Grand Forks Foundation for Education works hard every day to provide students and educators with maximum opportunities for excellence through granting, scholarship, and alumni programs. One of those programs is a quarterly publication called The Red Cent, which I am happy to say I am able to contribute to on a fairly regular basis.

In the latest issue of The Red Cent, I had a hand in an interview with Grand Forks’ Ed O’Keefe, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum board, and I wanted to share his comments because, as we know, the Library will be a pretty, pretty big deal.

The Red Cent is a print-only publication available to members of the Grand Forks Foundation for Education. To become a member for a very reasonable $33 a year, click here or email them here. You can check out how the Foundation uses those membership dollars for good by following their Facebook page or checking out their website. (And thank you to the Foundation for kindly allowing me to publish this interview here!)

Ed O’Keefe has been doing great things since he graduated from Red River High School in 1996.  A graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Ed spent much of his career bringing award-winning multimedia to the masses – from a radio role with ABC News, to an executive producer for ABC News Digital, to vice president of CNN Money and CNN politics, to CNN’s senior vice president of content development.  Today Ed is the CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum board, and he graciously sat down to answer a few questions about the Library, life in Grand Forks, and what he would like to tell future graduates:

Can you provide an overview of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library?

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library will celebrate the life and legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. The pillar principles of the project are Leadership, Citizenship, and Conservation. We will situate the library in the 193 acres of US Forest Service land that was purchased from the US Forest Service as a result of a federal act in 2020. The landscape is the library, and we are investing in the Native Plant Project, a habitat and species restoration project. We’re working with the Medora Grazing Association to show responsible conservation practices in a burning grace plan. The site and the building itself is designed by Snøhetta, a regional and US architecture firm that has gracefully designed a building which almost disappears into the landscape and frames of view of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the only park named for a person in the National Park system.

What is the timeline for the completion of the library?

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library hopes to begin construction in the spring of 2023, and we anticipate a substantially complete building by the summer of 2026. We hope to celebrate the 250th anniversary of America on July 4th, 2026, which, like the bicentennial of 1976, will be a nationwide patriotic celebration with the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library being a star in that nationwide constellation of celebrations.

What role will the library play in preserving and promoting the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt?  How will technology play a part in that?

Theodore Roosevelt is a remarkable U.S. President. He was the first president to fly in an airplane, the first President to drive a car, the first president to be submerged in a submarine, and the first president to use a telephone. He ushered in what we now refer to as the American Century. He was a thoroughly modern president, and in many ways dramatically expanded the US’s role in the world. He’s the first and only president to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He is credited with having saved football and created what now is the National Governors Association, the first meeting of governors in the White House. Conservation is a big part of what we will do to promote the life and legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. We will focus on our pillar principles of leadership, citizenship, and conservation, with conservation being foremost amongst those three. In celebrating conservation, we will be a fully sustainable library. We will achieve zero energy, zero emission, zero carbon, and zero waste alongside North Dakota’s goal to become the first carbon neutral state by 2030. So, we plan to be a living library and celebrate not only the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, but encourage visitors and participants to think about their lives, how they can dare greatly, live passionately, think boldly, and care deeply, just like you.

What role will the library play in elevating western North Dakota (and North Dakota as a whole)?

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library will be situated in Medora, North Dakota, which is already the state’s number one tourist attraction. It is home to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which receives 800,000 visitors a year. And of course, home to the Medora Musical, which between Memorial Day and Labor Day, sees upwards of 125,000 visitors in just that summer swell. The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library will be a remarkable addition to this already incredibly successful part of the state and will be a hallmark for what we’d like to think of as the T.R. triangle. Families on road trips who want to travel to western North Dakota and be inspired by the landscape that inspired Theodore Roosevelt, could potentially visit Mount Rushmore in South Dakota or travel west to visit the Yellowstone Glacier in the national park system. We really think that this will be an incredibly impactful project across the entire state. Just as in South Dakota, there is an impact from Sioux Falls all the way to the western part of the state and the location of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills. So, we think the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library will have an impact in Fargo, in Grand Forks, in the eastern part of the state as well. And, of course, a big impact on the tourism in western North Dakota.

What type of educational programs and events will the library offer?

The library hopes to do all kinds of inventive and innovative programming. We aspire to create a K12 education initiative, which will invite every 8th grader in the state of North Dakota to come to the library, get a civics education inside the library, and have an outdoor adventure in the National Park. We hope to do quite a lot with the indigenous tribal communities in North Dakota. We are very fortunate to have had representatives of each of the tribal nations come to Medora and have met with those tribal nations to talk about programs that can be inclusive, innovative, and understanding with the history and relationship with our native communities in North Dakota and beyond. We are talking about doing quite a lot of programming with the National Park. Having a 75,000-acre park as your backyard opens all kinds of opportunities in biking, hiking, outdoor recreation, and horseback riding. This would be the only presidential library you could walk, bike, hike, or take a horse to. There is also a lot of programming we are interested in with regard to veterans as well. Looking at the course of conservation and sustainability initiatives, these are all the types of programs and events that we can continue to build for many years and decades after the opening of the library.

How has the library collaborated with other organizations and institutions in its planning and development?

Ninety-nine-percent of Theodore Roosevelt’s archive is scattered throughout the United States and the world. The collection is primarily with the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian system, the American Museum of Natural History, and Harvard University. The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is working with each of these institutions, hoping to develop relationships. Particularly with the National Park system, which has the Sagamore Home and the boyhood home in New York in its National Historic sites. We hope to work with these organizations and institutions to develop loan agreements so we can bring this part of the archive that has never been on public display into the library and public view for all to see.

How will the landscape play a part in the experience of the TRPL?

We like to say that the library is the landscape. Theodore Roosevelt was our greatest conservation president, and it’s arguable that his greatest legacy is the protection and preservation of 230,000,000 acres of public lands, the creation of the US Forest Service, and his creation of bird and wildlife reserves. He really used the power of the Presidency to set aside land both for protection and development. As Theodore Roosevelt said at the dedication of the Cornerstone of Yellowstone National Park, these parks and places are for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. We take that legacy very seriously at the TRPL and are working on the surrounding landscape. The building itself will include a transversal roof and the frame of the east and west wing provides a viewshed into Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the only park named for a person, let alone a president. On the 93 acres, there’s a walking pathway where you can encounter different destinations or pavilions, an outlook from which you can get a perspective of 360 degrees around the Badlands that so inspired Theodore Roosevelt, a stargazing pavilion to look up at the dark night sky, and a look at ecology and conservation in practice. We’re working with the Medora Grazing Association to do responsible grazing of the land to imitate the bison migration and grazing pattern. And then having a responsible, controlled burn plan every two to three years so we can restore the native habitat and native species and ultimately show what conservation means, not just tell what conservation means.

How can people get involved and support the library?

The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library wants everyone in the arena for T.R., North Dakota, and our nation. If you’d like to get involved in the T.R. library, please go to www.trlibrary.com. Or if you’d like to donate to the library, you can go to www.trlibrary.com/donate.

How has growing up in Grand Forks influenced your life?

I loved growing up in Grand Forks, ND. It was, as I like to say now, a big-small town. I always felt safe, I always felt like I had a community, and I always felt like everyone was there to help and support me. I had wonderful teachers; Gene Martin, who recently passed away at Trader Middle School, Mrs. Sanford, my third-grade teacher, was a wonderful influence on me. I’ve talked about Dean Opp and Brad Sherwood, two of my teachers at high school. I of course was a Red River Roughrider, which might have influenced some of what I’m doing now for the T.R. library. But it’s just a wonderful place where I felt like I was loved and supported by the entire community in Grand Forks.

How do you feel that being a North Dakotan has shaped your perspective and values?

North Dakotans are good and decent people. I think that Theodore Roosevelt meant what he said when he said, “I would never have been president if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.” North Dakotans are full of common sense, decent, respectful, and kind people. I feel like the whole state has a no-jerks policy, and I just always enjoyed the commonsense practicality of Midwestern values. I tried to carry forward in my life with humility, gratitude, and respect for all people and their perspectives. Those are certainly lessons I learned in particular as a North Dakotan.

In what ways do you think that growing up in Grand Forks prepared you for your future?

Grand Forks prepared me for my future in many different ways. I’ve talked about how much I enjoyed living in the big-small town of Grand Forks, where everyone felt familiar, friendly, helpful, and supportive. But I think it also grounded me with the values and perspective of a Midwesterner who enjoys and values hard work, resilience, responsibility, and just doing the right thing and being a good person. Grand Forks was a dynamic, interesting community. When I say that I’m from North Dakota, I think people have the vision of a rural community without many people. Grand Forks is a vibrant, active town. We have a big military base. We are an hour-and-a-half from the Canadian border, so we see a lot of Canadian tourists. We’ve got the University of North Dakota, which of course has 10,000 students of all different backgrounds and perspectives. We are right across the Red River from Minnesota, so we had opportunities to spend time in other cities and places. I felt like I had a small town with all the access and activity of a big town. To me, growing up in Grand Forks prepared me for my future by giving me the best of both worlds.

Can you share any specific memories or experiences from your time at Red River High School?

I have a lot of fond memories of Red River High School. I think mostly about my time in the summer performing arts company, SPA, as well as student government. I ran for and won student council president while I was in high school. That was my first experience with leadership. I really enjoyed thinking about what issues were important to my classmates and being able to represent their voices with the administration in school. I was involved in every musical and play that Red River High School produced during my years there. I just had some impactful teachers and people who care deeply about me and made it clear that they were always interested in seeing me succeed. It was just a wonderful place to go to High School.

Do you have any connections or relationships formed at Red River continued to play a role in your life?

Yes, I really enjoyed Dean Opp and Brad Sherwood as my teachers at Red River High School and I’m very fortunate that throughout the rest of my life I’ve stayed in touch with them. When they take the biannual trips to New York City, I would give tours and greet the students from Red River. When I was at ABC News and at CNN Studios, I gave a backstage behind-the-scenes look at media, journalism, and broadcast news. I’ve continued to stay in touch with a number of classmates over the years through Facebook and social media. But you know, really, it’s the lasting memories, the values, and the impact of the teachers that I’ve carried with me the longest throughout my life. Bob Kulak was a teacher at Schroeder Middle school and then became an administrator at Red River while I was in high school. He wrote one of my college recommendations and I’ll never forget that, he said I was a “puckish purveyor.” That has always stuck with me that Bob Kulak had that impact on my early life, and probably that phrase got me into college. So, thank you, Mr. Kulak.

If you could give one piece of advice to a Grand Forks graduating senior, what would it be?

I like to say that you should never underestimate an underestimated person and one of the greatest advantages you will have after graduating Red River High School and being from Grand Forks, ND is that you will be underestimated in your life. People will, from other parts of the country and other parts of the world, believe that you can’t do it, and you can. Being underestimated is a gift, use it to your advantage. I would also say that the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life have not been when I’m talking, but when I’m listening. Be curious and ask good questions. I became a journalist and worked in media for nearly 20 years, and that entire industry is based on a pretty basic premise, which is asking questions, wondering, and being curious about the world around you. I would say in general to do good work, work hard, and be kind. Those are the things I’ve learned in Grand Forks and in North Dakota, is that, you know, you can be a great, enormous success in life, but if you are a jerk or someone that people don’t want to be around, it’s not worth all that much. So be curious, be kind, work hard, and enjoy the fact that you are probably going to be underestimated.

“I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

– President Theodore Roosevelt

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Dad Island | March 1, 2023

My eleven-year-old’s winter hockey season came to a close this past weekend, and after what was either three months or three hundred months of hockey, I’m TIRED.  T-I-R-E-D.  I’m so tired that I came down with a cold, and that’s not even the worst of it.  Want to know how tired I am?  I fell asleep eating pistachios.  I’ve never stopped eating anything in my entire life, let alone fallen asleep mid-bite.

I’m so tired I was thinking about skipping the story for this week and instead sleep-eating some more pistachios; but Kyle suggested that in honor of the end of the hockey season (I mean, it starts up again in three weeks but okay) I write something brief about Mom Island.  “Mom Island” is what Kyle calls any group of Hockey Moms; although if you ask me a more appropriate name would be the Spice Girls because Hockey Moms hang out as a GIRL POWER team wearing recognizable outfits and say things like, “Now don’t go wasting my precious time / Get your act together, and get the boys in bed by nine.”

And so I tell you what I want, what I really really want – I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna not give away the secrets of my fellow Hockey Moms and instead tell you – briefly, with my apologies for this story’s suckiness and a promise to write something much better next week – about Dad Island.

The thing to know about Dad Island is that it’s actually more of a Dad Archipelago because men are seemingly under the impression that if there are too many of them in one place at a time, someone will ask them to raise a barn.  Also, little boys and big boys aren’t that far off from one another in that they focus all of their attention on the things they care about – for little boys: winning hockey games, telling jokes involving the number 69; for men: winning hockey games, telling jokes involving the number 69 – and don’t really bother themselves with extraneous details.  Therefore, as opposed to Hockey Moms who enter an arena with purpose and direction and sit in a coordinated group behind their team bench, both Hockey Dads and their sons wander into the building with the same “Oh, is this a hockey rink?  Okay.” hands-in-pockets-look about them. 

At some point, the dads amble to wherever they are going to watch the game, which is usually one of four Dad Island locations: on the glass, at the chair rail, behind the bench because they are the coaches, or as far away from the Hockey Moms as possible. They select their spot based on the presence of one or more dads – up to but not exceeding five – in the same said location.  These sites have been time-tested for their opportunity to view the game from every angle so that when they hands-in-pockets-meander into new micro-Dad Islands after the final buzzer they can critique every second of the play from all possible vantage points.  Additionally, they are situated where their own younger children can’t come and ask them for money without first passing by the Hockey Moms.

There are a couple of ways to get more than five Hockey Dads into the same place at the same time.  One is to dress them in matching outfits, such as sports uniforms, camouflage, or a tuxedos.  The other is to provide them with a space with access to alcohol.  I wouldn’t know anything about this because I typically leave hockey games and go directly back to my hotel room to knit booties for underprivileged children, but I’ve HEARD that dads will gather at a conglomeration of tables, hopefully in a private (so no one can surprise them with barn wood and nails) community room of sorts, where they can work out all the problems of the world and/or talk about really important things, like driveways.  The moms will simultaneously gather in the same room, but will not interact with their own spouses unless absolutely necessary (usually with the phrase, “Are you putting our child to bed or am I?”).

Anyways, Dad Island is no Mom Island, let me tell you, but its inhabitants are cute so we’ll keep them around.  Plus, without Dad Island we Hockey Moms would have to wake up even earlier than we already do to take the kids to the rink; which, no thank you.

Zig-a-zig, ah.

Our fantastic, wonderful friends invited us to see a comedian named Bert Kreischer on Sunday night after the conclusion of the hockey tournament. I was sleeping on the couch up until the minute we left for the show, which was hilarious and we had a great time (and we were in bed by 10, so double-great time). The photo above is of the two most tired people in the universe.

Speaking of knitting, here’s a sweet story about Bismarck’s Maggie Krumm. (KFYR TV)

In North Dakota-adjacent news, three “Old Guys” snowmobiled 4,000 miles from Minnesota to Manitoba. (Dickinson Press)

This was the hockey tournament our 11-year-old participated in last weekend. (Fargo Forum)

Have I posted this story before?  I’m too tired to look.  University of North Dakota students launched a weather balloon as a part of a NASA program. (UND)

The North Dakota State High School Hockey Tournament was also last weekend, and here’s a nice little story about some of the fans from Grand Forks. (Facebook)

Grand Forks’ Justin Auch is working on trading a coffee mug for a $3,000 coffee grinder or a food truck. (Grand Forks Herald)

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Cinema North Dakota: “Shotgun Wedding” with Minot’s Josh Duhamel (and also Jennifer Lopez) | February 22, 2023

First of all, you should know that Josh Duhamel doesn’t take his shirt off at all in Shotgun Wedding (Prime Video), not once.  Despite being wet for approximately 20% of the movie – it takes place on a Philippine island which he falls off of in the first thirty seconds – Josh Duhamel is clothed 100% of the time.  He removes his jacket at one point and you think, “Whoop, here we go,” and then nothing.  So, if you watch actionantic (that’s action and romantic mixed together, which I came up with myself) comedies, which Shotgun Wedding is, because you want to see Josh Duhamel with his shirt off, be prepared to be disappointed.

On the other hand, if you watch romaction (maybe that’s better) movies because you want to see Jennifer Lopez’s rockin’ body, then you, my friend, ARE IN LUCK.  JLo’s contract for Shotgun Wedding clearly required her to rip off a portion of her clothing every ten minutes, and with a lot of explosions and a robust cast of “Hey, that guy” character actors (Jennifer Coolidge, Lenny Kravitz, D’Arcy Carden, Cheech Marin, Steve Coulter, Sônia Braga, Callie Hernandez), the producers obviously couldn’t afford to have a single scene with her in a sweatshirt.

Here’s my review: Shotgun Wedding is pure entertainment.  I was entertained for the entire one hour and forty minutes.  I laughed out loud a bunch of times, and Kyle even went “Ha” once, which used up his allotted delight for the week because Kyle is not a laugher.  If I was sitting around folding laundry and Shotgun Wedding came on the TV, I would watch it again.  Is it the greatest romaction movie ever made?  No.  Is it the greatest romaction movie made in 2022?  In The Lost City Channing Tatum takes his shirt off so you tell me.  If you decide to peruse Shotgun Wedding because you’re in the mood for la cinema magnifique, well…you need to improve your critical understanding of previews because Shotgun Wedding does not hide its true self.  I mean, the movie poster has JLo with a cake knife in her belt and Josh Duhamel scratching the back of his head looking confused, which basically sums up the entire plot of the movie.

Here’s an extended plot summary: It’s the eve of Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Lopez’s destination wedding.  Josh, a newly-washed-up minor league baseball player (this is repeated throughout the film as a way to “Add depth to the character” and “Give JLo a reason to make silly faces” and “Allow Josh to hit a grenade with a chunk of wood shaped like a baseball bat so as to tie the whole thing back together”) has channeled all of his baseball energy into Pinteresting the crap out of the wedding.  Jennifer, on the other hand, isn’t into it because her dad is rich and could have paid a wedding planner to do all of the Pinteresting, and also because she wanted to elope since her parents are divorced and her mom wears her hair in a bun as proof that she is no longer happy.

Her dad (Cheech Marin) is rich, dating a yoga instructor (D’Arcy Carden) and has invited Jennifer Lopez’s ex (Lenny Kravitz) to the wedding because “He lives in Bali” and destination wedding guests are selected based on proximity. Lenny Kravitz shows up literally on top of the rehearsal dinner in a helicopter, decked out in what looks to be a set of pearls from a child’s dress-up box.  Everyone loves Lenny Kravitz because he is not wearing a shirt.

The wedding day arrives and JLo texts Josh something on the lines of “Something isn’t right, we need to talk.” Josh, as an adult with the ability to comprehend English, presumes she wants to call the whole thing off.  WRONG.  She just wants to apologize for trying to get him to stop glue-gunning fairy lights to pineapples (not a euphemism) so they can have some pre-wedding night hanky-hanky.  While they are arguing about something that could have been a text message, pirates invade the wedding and force all of the guests to stand in the pool until Cheech transfers over $40 million of his $60 million net worth (I guess they don’t teach “liquid assets” in pirate-ing school).  Instead, Jennifer Coolidge, playing Josh’s mom, gives everyone something better than money: comedy.  Also, Cheech says he’s not givin’ nobody nothin’ until they bring him his daughter.  Challenge accepted.

The rest of the movie is JLo and Josh running away from and inadvertently (and sometimes advertently) killing bad guys, and Jennifer Coolidge being Jennifer Coolidge.  There is quite a bit of fire, an inconsistent amount of blood, and a number of very concerning injuries that do not concern people at all.  JLo is the boss and brains behind the operation, having mastered the arts of ziplining, dress ripping, boat driving, and burning up people’s heads (not a euphemism) prior to her trip to the island.  For his own part, North Dakota’s favorite son treats all guns like they are loaded, even though anyone with a weapon likes to pump/rack it over and over and over prior to “firing it” into the crowd (spoiler: Despite a Star Wars-quantity of bullets flying around from what should be empty guns, only two people are minorly injured).  Also, there is a musical number.

Despite the fact that JLo and Josh reiterate the message of the movie every time they tear an item of clothing, I’m not exactly sure what that message is – maybe that not all marriages are perfect?  Or that marriage means you need to be yourself?  Or that grenades don’t fire until you lift the handle and count to five?  One of the most memorable lines to me was the most subtle: after running through the jungle, Jennifer and Josh find themselves in the resort kitchen surrounded by what should have been their wedding dinner.  Jennifer starts shoveling down what I think were chilled scallops (movie food is VERY IMPORTANT to me, I pay VERY CLOSE attention and I NOTICE when the actors just hold the food in their mouths or push it around their plates and don’t eat it) and Josh says something like, “How can you eat at a time like this?”  And she shoves a scallop in his mouth and says, “Here, you’re grumpy.”  Which was a very marriage-y thing to do.

I’m not giving anything away when I say the movie ends happily ever after for everyone (including the pineapples) except for the resort owners, who now have an insurance nightmare on their hands.  The credits has JLo both singing and dancing, which was pretty fun. I don’t have a ratings system, but if I did, I would give Shotgun Wedding 4 out of 5 ranch dressings.

The image above is, clearly, the movie poster for Shotgun Wedding.

This isn’t really news, but it IS a sweet story of paraprofessional Jackie Freitag, who helps her students get excited about music. (KFYR TV)

Fargo’s Tom and Wendy Folkestad are the FIRST North Dakotans to ever win the Publisher’s Clearing House grand weekly $10,000 prize. (Fargo Forum)

The line-up is set for the North Dakota State Fair, including Ludacris, T-Pain, Eric Church, Five Finger Death Punch, and Brad Paisley. (Minot Daily News)

If you’ve ever though, “Boy, I wish I could gain weight like a walk-on football player” well then here’s a recipe for you. (Fargo Forum)

West Fargo’s Johanna Loiseau was one of Rihanna’s backup dancers for the Super LVII Half-Time Show. (Fargo Forum)

Coming soon to Cinema North Dakota: End of the Rope, which was filmed in North Dakota and is the story of the Charles Bannon case. (US 103.3)

Watford City’s Mitch Haugeberg has been able to fund his family board game thanks to a very successful Kickstarter. (KFYR TV)

Students at Bismarck’s Wachter Middle School spent the day outside trying out kick sleds and snowshoes. (KFYR TV)

The Fargo-Moorhead Opera’s Young Artist Program recently put on three mini operas, entitled, “Love Bites.” (Fargo Forum)

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