Desiring to move on professionally and get out of the political arena, Joe Wiegand’s career took an ironic turn: It ascended him to the White House.
Now then, we know the current U.S. president is Barack Obama and that nobody named Joe Wiegand has ever actually served as commander-in-chief, but, during the early years of the 20th century, a man named Theodore Roosevelt did serve as president and six days per week every summer, Wiegand channels his inner bully to perform as America’s 26th president in Medora.
On Monday, Wiegand donned his black three-piece suit and top hat during one of the final hot days of the summer of 2013 as he delighted close to 40 spectators at the Old Town Hall Theater with his performance “A Theodore Roosevelt Salute to Medora.”
Now wrapping up his second year working in Medora, Wiegand recently agreed to terms with the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation to portray Roosevelt for at least the next two summers.
“It’s a blessing for me to be here,” said Wiegand before his Labor Day show. “Right now, Medora does tremendously well in its own region — drawing from states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Wyoming and others — and part of what I want to do is to help take the TRMF into a national marketplace.”
Like the current president, Wiegand’s road to the Roosevelt-era White House began with a political career in Illinois. After two-plus decades serving as a county commissioner, campaigning for other Chicagoland and statewide offices, and even running Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign in Illinois, Wiegand decided to get out of what he called a “tough business” and get into his black three-piece suit.
“At heart, I’m a patriot and I’ve always believed I have the heart of a public servant,” Wiegand said. “Ever since I was a little boy, I thought the way to express that sense of duty and responsibility was to be in politics and public policy. As one person said in Chicago, ‘politics ain’t beanbags.’ People on the inside, they like things just the way they are. I had to sit back after a couple of major campaigns in Illinois and think of a different way to help make the world a better place.”
No longer duking it out in real world politics, Wiegand now travels around the country, making anywhere from 75 to 90 appearances as Roosevelt, he says, during the nine months he isn’t in Medora, preaching on his bully pulpit to school children, at museums and making any number of other appearances from coast to coast.
As part of his agreement with the TRMF, Wiegand also travels the country in a 2011 Ford Flex dubbed “Manitou the Medora Mobile,” which is a Medora billboard on wheels.
“I especially like performing before school kids,” Wiegand said. “Hopefully, I offer a bit of an entertaining history lesson. You never know, there could be a future president of the United States in the audience or a future doctor who will go on to cure cancer.”
Wiegand’s performances last about an hour with a short question and answer session to follow. The current Tennessee resident said it has taken several years of research and practice to attempt to fit Roosevelt’s remarkable life story into that short of a routine.
From the seemingly countless tales that can be told of Roosevelt’s life — from being the only president to date born in New York City to being the inspiration for what we know now as the “Teddy Bear” — Wiegand said its Roosevelt’s dogged determination and ability to overcome failure and tragedy that he hopes people take away from his portraying the “Rough Rider.”
“For young people and adults, there’s a message about overcoming hardship and challenge,” Wiegand said. “When I was young, I was bronchial. Knowing Teddy’s story of overcoming his asthma as a youth and building his body, that was an inspiration for me. Teddy overcame tremendous tragedy in life — including the loss of his mother and wife on the same day — and that’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to look beyond ourselves and take action in the service of others.”
Wiegand’s final performance in Medora is scheduled for Friday. Following the show, he will leave for “Teddy Roosevelt Days” in Newcomb, N.Y., which kicks off the following day.
“It’s just an honor to be able to bring Teddy’s words back to life,” Wiegand said. “Teddy talked about being in the arena and I think that’s so important. You’re going to fail, but that’s what happens when you try. Better that than to live, as Teddy said, as the cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”