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Dole displays humility, humor, tears as statue unveiled

From The Ichabod - Winter 2019

Watch the full statue unveiling

Even two decades after leaving politics, Sen. Bob Dole can still draw a crowd.

On an unseasonably cool, windy morning, more than 250 people gathered on the lawn in front of Carnegie Hall on Sept. 28, 2018, waiting for a larger-than-life statue of the Kansan and Washburn alumnus to be unveiled on the Washburn University campus.

Wearing a black suit over a sharp red vest, 95-year-old Dole, ba ’52, jd ’52, h ’69, h ’85, was joined by his wife, Elizabeth, a former North Carolina senator, former Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, and other family, friends and dignitaries. Washburn President Jerry Farley gave Dole a warm welcome home to his alma mater, where he earned his bachelor of arts and juris doctor in the 1950s.

“We could not be prouder to call you an alumnus of this university,” Farley said to Dole. “You have made America a better place for all Americans, and we here at Washburn are grateful for your support of this University. We are honored to have this statue on our campus.”

The bronze statue, which took Omaha-based artist John Lajba more than seven months to complete, faces north on a pedestal near the main Carnegie entrance and depicts a smiling Dole standing and gazing proudly into the distance. It was funded by gifts to Washburn from Dole’s friends, John Pinegar, ba ’82, and Doug and Kathleen, bba ’84, Smith, whom Dole offered a humble, heartfelt thanks that showed his wit and sense of humor are still as astute as when he hit the campaign trail as the Republican presidential nominee in 1996.

Though most current Washburn students had not been born yet when Dole was at the height of his political prowess, Farley hopes the statue inspires them. He said it captures the spirit of one of the University’s most distinguished alumni and represents values like determination, integrity and service Dole learned growing up in Russell, Kansas. His rural background is familiar to many Washburn students.

In addition to his political career, Dole is a decorated World War II veteran, having earned two Purple Hearts for injuries he sustained while trying to assist a fallen soldier. In 2018, Dole received a Congressional Gold Medal for his military service, as well as his advocacy for disabled individuals and veterans. Though two-thirds approval is required to award the medal, Dole received backing from every U.S. senator.

Dole also earned the Washburn University School of Law Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1981 and Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Washburn Law features the Robert J. Dole Center for Law and Government and a scholarship in his name for law students with disabilities. Washburn conferred on him an honorary doctor of laws in 1969 and an honorary doctor of civil law in 1985.

“This statue here on our campus will be a reminder of the importance of public service, but most of all we hope it serves as a reminder to students, and all who pass, of the importance of finding common ground and working together to serve and solve our difficulties and our differences,” Farley said. “Sen. Dole focused on doing just that during his career in public service.”

In addition to the value of friendship, bipartisan statesmanship was another recurring theme in Farley and Dole’s remarks, with both men touching on the challenges of navigating today’s divisive political climate.

“We seem to have lost our motivation to talk with one another and not be shouting at one another all the time,” Farley said. “I think that (Dole) has been a statesman, and he has been a person of reason.”

Among the several things Dole said that garnered applause was when he mentioned a commitment to all Kansans while he served in congress for 35 years.

“Once you’re elected, you serve the people,” Dole added. “You don’t serve just members of your party; you serve everyone in your state. That was very important to me – I believed in bipartisanship. We don’t have all the wisdom in our party, and they don’t have all the wisdom in their party, but if we work together, we can work out a pretty good compromise.”

During his speech, Dole became emotional and even choked up a bit when discussing his friendships with Pinegar and the Smiths, saying he didn’t feel he deserved such an honor.

"I'm very proud and very humbled by my friends, and I don't know what else to say,” Dole said. The audience interjected with another round of applause as he choked up. He answered with a trademark joke.

“I hope that young people who pass this way will recognize that if you study hard and apply yourselves, you can probably get another statue on the campus.”

The Ichabod magazine spring 2019

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2018-19 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

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