By Jug Varner
Presidential libraries offer a perspective of the person it honors that may be different from the visitors' concepts formed through media reports and political bias - particularly the latter. Whether or not the visitor liked the president when in office, it is interesting how much more objective one becomes viewing those years of national service in retrospect, regardless of party affiliation. And, it is history that even kids can enjoy.
There are now a dozen presidential libraries across the country and each is different and uniquely reflective of its honoree. Of the several I have seen, however, the Bush Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, made the greatest impression on me. It is a beautiful place inside and out, and uses the latest technologies in its interesting presentations. However, its most impressive aspect is that it is so personal.
One leaves there feeling as if he or she knows the entire Bush family like their own friends or relatives. It conveys a sense that they truly are family-oriented people who put great stock in traditional core values of honesty, integrity, hard work, discipline and giving of themselves for the benefit of others — the nobility of public service.
As one for whom the word “dignity” has a special meaning and appreciation, this visit also gave me pause to reflect on how much of that precious commodity has been lost in the White House since George and Barbara Bush departed.
The President's and First Lady's narration of special video presentations are l virtual guided tour in various exhibit areas. It begins off the rotunda in the Orientation Theater, with an intimate eight-minute film of the President at Kennebunkport. Another depicts the presidential office at Camp David and its calming effects away from the pressure-packed environment of the nation's capital. Another is the current special featured exhibit of intimate family photographs, each “picture” better than “a thousand words.” This continues in other areas throughout the museum.
Typical of this “personal touch” is the opportunity for visitors leaving the museum to touch a computer monitor display to request and receive a free printout souvenir signed letter from either or both George and Barbara Bush in answer to one of 24 questions.
A Kennebunkport display and a 240' replica of Washington's Vietnam Memorial wall were special showings during that month. These special exhibits from time to time augment permanent displays such as a TBM torpedo bomber similar to the one Bush flew as a Navy pilot in WWII from the decks of the aircraft carrier San Jacinto. (The San Jacinto display flew the Texas Flag beneath the Stars and Stripes on her flag staff).
Other regular exhibits include a realistic Gulf War display, a walk-in cross-section of Air Force One, a chronology of the Cold War, a 5,000-pound section of the Berlin Wall, and a gallery of art. These and many others historically document the Bush presidency and the life of our 41st president.
Outside the Museum stands a bronze sculpture of four horses leaping to freedom over the rubble of the Berlin Wall — emblematic of our cherished Four Freedoms.
No other American President served the nation in as many ways as George Bush did, yet not until one sees these exhibits is the enormity of his service so well exemplified. Barbara Bush's efforts on behalf of literacy, AIDS prevention and volunteerism are also deservedly documented.
The Bush Library Collections include 38 million pages of official and personal papers, one million photographs, 25 hundred hours of video tape and 70 thousand museum objects, encompassing much U.S. history since 1941. It is also a research institution integrated into the academic environment of Texas A&M University. It includes a Conference Center, School of Government and Public Service, Center for Presidential Studies, Center for Public Leadership, the George Bush Presidential Foundation, and the International Center.
Its Museum contains a classroom designed specifically for students from kindergarten through high school. Using innovative interactive computer software and audio-visual programming, a staff education coordinator works with school groups to develop programs and activities to teach students about the presidency and recent American history.
The National Archives and Records Administration operates this and nine other presidential libraries and museums. Those are for Presidents Ronald Reagan (at Simi Valley, CA), Gerald Ford (at Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, MI), Richard Nixon (at Yorba Linda, CA), Jimmy Carter (at Atlanta, GA), Lyndon Johnson (at Austin, TX), John Kennedy (at Boston, MA), Dwight Eisenhower (at Abilene, KS), Harry Truman (at Independence, MO), and Franklin Roosevelt (at Hyde Park, NY). The two others honor Herbert Hoover (at West Branch, IA), and Rutherford B. Hayes (at Fremont, OH.
George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
1000 George Bush Drive West
College Station TX 77845
Tel: (409) 260-9552.
Web Site: http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/bushlib
Museum hours: Mon -Sat: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sun: 12:00-5 p.m. Parking is free.