Teddy Roo­sevelt died 100 years ago; here’s what he means to San Luis Obispo

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Opinion & Obituaries - BY JOHN ASHBAUGH

On Dec. 5, the na­tion ob­served the fu­neral for our 41st Pres­i­dent, the late George H.W. Bush. In his mov­ing eu­logy to his fa­ther, our 43rd Pres­i­dent George W. Bush in­cluded the fol­low­ing ref­er­ence:

“In his In­au­gu­ral Ad­dress, the 41st pres­i­dent of the United States said this: “We can­not hope only to leave our chil­dren a big­ger car, a big­ger bank ac­count. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a lov­ing par­ent, a ci­ti­zen who leaves his home, his neigh­bor­hood and town bet­ter than he found it.”

As I re­flected on this eu­logy, it oc­curred to me that his­tory was re­peat­ing it­self — it was al­most the same theme that Theodore Roo­sevelt used in his speech on May 9, 1903, in San Luis Obispo:

“Our aim must be to hand over to our chil­dren not an im­pov­er­ished but an im­proved her­itage. That is the part of wisdom for our peo­ple. We wish to hand over our coun­try to our chil­dren in bet­ter shape, not in worse shape, than we our­selves got it.”

One hun­dred years ago — Jan. 6, 1919 — Theodore Roo­sevelt suc­cumbed in his sleep to a fa­tal em­bolism. He was a mere 60 years old, but his health had been de­te­ri­o­rat­ing for years, ever since a close brush with death in 1914 while ex­plor­ing the “River of Doubt” in Brazil. To com­pound his anx­i­eties, just a few months ear­lier Roo­sevelt had learned that his son Quentin had been shot down in aerial com­bat over Ger­man lines; he took this blow very hard.

Vice Pres­i­dent Thomas Mar­shall re­marked, upon hear­ing the news that TR had sim­ply gone to sleep and never awoke: “Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight.”

In­deed, as a young man, Roo­sevelt had quite lit­er­ally “re­made” his body from that of a weak youth af­flicted with se­vere asthma to be­come a skilled boxer who trained rig­or­ously and chal­lenged many fight­ers far bet­ter than him­self. He could not de­feat death, how­ever, which came to him like a thief in the night.

Roo­sevelt was known for many dis­tin­guish­ing traits, any one of which would have earned him great dis­tinc­tion among men: pres­i­dent and states­man; war hero ( posthu­mously awarded the Medal of Honor); win­ner of the No­bel Peace Prize; “trust­bust­ing” re­former and friend of the work­ing man; de­voted hus­band and fa­ther of five chil­dren; au­thor of dozens of books and nu­mer­ous ar­ti­cles; world trav­eler and in­trepid ex­plorer; ex­tra­or­di­nary speaker and skilled lec­turer.

But it is Roo­sevelt’s sta­tus as a nat­u­ral­ist, a sci­en­tist and a pas­sion­ate con­ser­va­tion­ist that com­mends TR to us here in San Luis Obispo. His ad­vo­cacy for con­ser­va­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources is the stuff of le­gends — and his ac­tions speak louder than words: As pres­i­dent, Theodore Roo­sevelt es­tab­lished five new Na­tional Parks; cre­ated or en­larged 150 Na­tional Forests (in­clud­ing Los Padres Na­tional For­est); and set aside 55 Wildlife Refuges. Af­ter sign­ing the An­tiq­ui­ties Act into law, he des­ig­nated 18 na­tional mon­u­ments. Al­to­gether, Roo­sevelt is cred­ited with pro­tect­ing al­most 300 mil­lion acres of land. Truly, TR “handed over our coun­try to our chil­dren in bet­ter shape… than we our­selves got it.”

For the last few years, a small group of local res­i­dents has been work­ing with ARTS Obispo to cre­ate a mon­u­ment to Theodore Roo­sevelt and his con­ser­va­tion legacy in San Luis Obispo’s Mitchell Park. TR’s 1903 speech in SLO pro­vides a glimpse of the “Big Bang” ori­gins of the con­ser­va­tion move­ment that grew to such an ex­tra­or­di­nary de­gree here on the Cen­tral Coast in the cen­tury that fol­lowed. In that brief hour of Roo­sevelt’s visit in 1903, he lit the spark for the fierce spirit of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism that has in­fused ev­ery bat­tle to pro­tect our unique land­scape here in SLO County.

Gen­er­a­tions to come would fol­low in Roo­sevelt’s path as we pre­served land­marks like Mon­tana de Oro, Morro Rock, the Nipomo Dunes, and the Car­rizo Plains.

The pro­posed mon­u­ment will cen­ter on a seated Roo­sevelt, at­tired as he was in Yosemite with John Muir, and re­veal­ing him as the charis­matic nat­u­ral­ist that he was. The cho­sen site is a grove of red­wood trees near the Se­nior Cen­ter.

The artist for this project is Paula Zima, a sculp­tor with deep roots in San Luis Obispo. Af­ter study­ing at Cal Poly, Paula cre­ated nu­mer­ous sev­eral pub­lic sculp­tures in the re­gion in­clud­ing Mis­sion Plaza’s iconic Bear and Child. Now based in New Mex­ico, Paula has pre­sented a “ma­que­tte” con­cept for the mon­u­ment as shown above. The project will be sub­ject to re­view and ap­proval by the city of San Luis Obispo. The life-size bronze sculp­ture will be cast in Paso Robles, and all project el­e­ments will be de­signed and fab­ri­cated to em­pha­size local ma­te­ri­als.

Con­cep­tual site plans for the project will be re­viewed by the SLO City Parks Com­mis­sion on Feb. 6. To date, over $50,000 has been raised for this project; it’s es­ti­mated that we’ll need about $100,000 more to com­plete it. Do­na­tions for the project should be di­rected to ARTS Obispo through this web site: https://trslo.com. For more in­for­ma­tion, please con­tact the au­thor at 805550-7713 or by email­ing [email protected]­baugh.com.

John Ashbaugh is a for­mer San Luis Obispo City Coun­cil mem­ber. He teaches U.S. His­tory and Global Stud­ies at Han­cock Col­lege in Santa Maria.

Cour­tesy of Pierre Rade­maker

A model of the Theodore Roo­sevelt statue de­signed by Paula Zima. The bronze mon­u­ment is pro­posed for place­ment in San Luis Obispo’s Mitchell Park.

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