North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Microsoft, a Walmart heir, and a Fargo media mogul are among the major financial backers of a proposed presidential library for Theodore Roosevelt in the state’s Badlands
BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s governor, Microsoft, a Walmart heir, and a Fargo media mogul are among the major financial backers of a proposed presidential library for Theodore Roosevelt in the state’s western Badlands where he hunted, ranched and lived a cowboy life before becoming the 26th U.S. president, the library’s foundation announced Tuesday.
The North Dakota Legislature last year approved $50 million to operate the library, but specified it must be matched by $100 million in private money to build it and fund an ongoing project at nearby Dickinson State University to digitize tens of thousands of Roosevelt’s papers.
The library foundation announced that it had obtained the $100 million in commitments late Tuesday, on what would be Roosevelt’s 162nd birthday. Roosevelt was in his 20s when he came to North Dakota to recuperate from the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day in 1884. He spent four years on a ranch in an area is now a national park and the state’s top tourist attraction. An effort to build a presidential library in his native New York failed — and North Dakota leaders saw an opportunity.
The library has been a top priority for Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, who has promoted the library as an anchor for North Dakota tourism and a fitting tribute to Roosevelt.
Roosevelt wrote three books inspired by his Western sojourn and, after returning to politics, helped conserve 230 million acres of land in a legacy that led to the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. The nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park draws about 700,000 people each year.
Burgum, a former Microsoft executive, and his wife Kathryn, are listed by the foundation as pledging more than $1 million for the project. Microsoft also has committed more than $1 million, the foundation said.
“This is an ambitious, visionary project that will benefit North Dakotans and all Americans for generations to come,” Burgum said in a statement.
William Marcil, the chairman of Forum Communications Co. and former publisher and CEO of The Forum, a multimedia news company based in Fargo, is listed along with his wife, Jane, as giving more than $1 million.
The foundation said most of money — $50 million — is coming from former Walmart Inc. Chairman Rob Walton and his wife, Melani, who was born in Williston, North Dakota, and is a Dickinson State graduate and library foundation board member. Rob Walton is the eldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton.
Roosevelt’s family also has pledged money, including more than $100,000 each from Roosevelt’s great-grandson Theodore Roosevelt IV and great-great-grandson Theodore Roosevelt V.
The library will be built on 60 acres of U.S. Forest Service land near Medora.
Library CEO Ed O’Keefe said construction is scheduled to start in 2022, with an opening in 2024 or 2025.