WEST BRANCH, Iowa – The bold headline on the front page of the Aug. 12, 1962, edition of the Davenport Times-Democrat was of the size normally saved for catastrophic events. But it was no catastrophe that greeted newspaper readers of the day. The headline? IOWA HONORS REVERED SON Former President Herbert Hoover had come back […]
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WEST BRANCH, Iowa – The bold headline on the front page of the Aug. 12, 1962, edition of the Davenport Times-Democrat was of the size normally saved for catastrophic events.
But it was no catastrophe that greeted newspaper readers of the day.
The headline? IOWA HONORS REVERED SON
Former President Herbert Hoover had come back to his humble roots to celebrate his 88th birthday at the dedication of his presidential library, an event that drew an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 people to the Cedar County town of West Branch, likely many from the nearby Quad Cities.
Today, 60 years later, plans are underway for a $20 million “reimagining” of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, the attraction’s first major upgrade since 1992.
Imagine a sensory experience of sight and sound that puts you in the middle of the myriad of world-changing issues and challenges that faced Mr. Hoover before, during and after his presidency. And imagine being so inspired by the life of public service that he and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover lived that you decide to create positive change in your own community.
It’s that kind of experience that’s being planned for the national historic site. The enhanced museum experience will bring the story of the Hoovers to a new generation of visitors with the latest technology creating an immersive and emotional experience.
The same firm behind the design of the much-acclaimed Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois – BRC Imagination Arts of Los Angeles – is the creative engine behind the Hoover project.
The plans are creating a lot of excitement across Iowa, where legislators last year approved $5 million in Hoover Tax Credits to encourage Iowans to donate to the project. And, the new experience at the museum is expected to bring thousands more visitors to the site, which closed its doors for almost two years during the pandemic and is just now rebounding since reopening 10 months ago.
Fundraising is well underway and will receive a boost from an event Friday, Oct. 7, at the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Cedar Rapids featuring former President George W. Bush, who is being honored, along with former First Lady Laura Bush. The couple will be the first recipients of the Hoover Presidential Foundation Great Humanitarian Award.
Jerry Fleagle, president and CEO of the Hoover Presidential Foundation, said the National Archives and Records Administration, which owns and operates the library-museum, requires that 90% of the funds for the project must be raised before construction (or destruction) at the current site can begin.
As of mid-August, fundraising efforts through the “Timeless Values-Modern Experience” campaign – including cash, pledges and letters of credit – amounted to about $12 million, Mr. Fleagle said. The foundation also has applied for a $5 million Destination Iowa grant.
Of the $20 million that needs to be raised. $17 million will go toward modernizing the museum’s exhibition spaces, $2 million will launch what’s being called the Uncommon Iowans Center, and $1 million will go for establishing an endowment fund to secure maintenance of the renovated facilities and put the institution on firmer long-term financial footing, according to the campaign.
Much fanfare accompanied the 1962 visit by Mr. Hoover and former President Harry Truman when the library was first dedicated. Precise timelines of their schedules were published before the big day, allowing crowds to line the motorcade routes. The two men of different political parties had become good friends in the wake of Mr. Hoover’s assistance to the Truman administration following World War II.
Mr. Hoover quickly answered President Truman’s call to assist with postwar issues of starvation across Europe caused by harsh winters, drought and devastated economies. With his experience addressing issues of massive hunger in Belgium during World War I, Mr. Hoover headed the Famine Emergency Committee to get food supplies to the most vulnerable people.
The library-museum complex was rededicated on Aug. 8, 1992, after $6.5 million in renovations, which included the addition of six galleries that transport visitors to various stages of the Hoovers’ lives, as well as some interactive displays. Former President Ronald Reagan delivered the remarks to a crowd of 5,000.
It was reported at the time that the renovated museum “is reaching out to the generation weaned on television,” according to a Quad-City Times story covering the event. But with 30 years now passing, the Hoover site has gone the longest of any of the presidential libraries without an upgrade, and the generation that officials hope to reach has grown up in the age of the internet and smartphone technology.
“Most library museums are usually refreshed every 12 to 15 years,” Mr. Fleagle said. “Herbert Hoover is a great story. We are trying to take it to the next generation.”
The goal is to open the updated museum on Aug. 10, 2024, on what would be the 150th anniversary of Mr. Hoover’s birth, though Mr. Fleagle acknowledges it is a tight deadline.
Allan Hoover III, great-grandson of President and Mrs. Hoover, is excited about seeing the couple’s story of public service brought to life for a new generation of visitors.
“There are so many good lessons from their lives,” Mr. Hoover, 50, who lives in Denver, Colorado, said in a telephone interview with the QCBJ. “If I were to pick one that resonated with our family, it’s perseverance. During their lives they had to overcome a lot. But they carried on.”
He noted that “Lou and Bert” were a true team, circumnavigating the globe together five times. Their public service, he said, continued until their last days.
In the interview, Mr. Hoover spoke of the obstacles his great-grandfather overcame to address massive issues of starvation during World War I and after World War II when President Truman asked for his help.
He recalls visiting the 1962 version of the museum as a boy, with “galleries filled with glass cases.” The 1992 renovations “amazed” him. But the capabilities that today’s technology will bring will put their story in an entirely different framework.
Reaching a new audience
He called BRC Imagination Arts “terrific storytellers.”
“We’re going to be retelling their story in a way to connect with this generation, a new generation since the last renovations,” Mr. Hoover said. That generation includes his own children, a daughter, 19, and sons, age 16 and 13.
Matthew Solari, vice president and creative designer for BRC Imagination Arts, said his research into the Hoovers has taught him much that he didn’t know about the nation’s 31st president. And he is eager to share that knowledge in a way that makes an impact.
“We are looking at it as an experience, really bringing it alive to people,” he said. “We are taking it out of the realm of standard presentation of material and really creating these touchpoints so people can get to know Herbert and Lou Hoover. We want to get people to know them.”
Mr. Solari said as the BRC team talked to scholars and to the Hoover family, “The more amazed we were, the more proud we were. As human beings and as Americans, he and Lou were among our most exceptional people.”
The new exhibits will take a deep look into Mr. Hoover’s presidency, exploring the Great Depression, which was described as “a war on 1,000 fronts.”
“It was a problem that even the great minds of the day had difficulty figuring out,” Mr. Solari said. “We want people to emotionally feel all of the maelstrom of things happening during that time.”
In learning more about Mr. Hoover’s story, Mr. Solari said he was struck by how the native Iowan, at the height of his achievements as a mining engineer, turned his back on his financial and professional success and committed his life to public service.
“Everybody I talk to, they are blown away that people don’t know this story,” he said. “It’s so American. We step in and we take care of people. Mr. Hoover basically invented a way for us to do that on a scale that we had not experienced.”
Uncommon Iowans Center
Generations of Iowa children have taken school field trips to the Hoover museum. That tradition will continue, with an updated twist.
The Uncommon Iowans Center planned for the project will invite students to debate and consider key decisions that have shaped the country in what are described as high-energy simulations.
“Assuming characters such as secretary of state, policy adviser, and digital correspondent, students will gather in a government office replica – or connect virtually from home or a classroom – to solve a simulated crisis in real time,” according to campaign materials.