Truman Library Institute Celebrates New Space, In North Parking Garage, with Students

Thursday, August 31, 2017
Students with Fr. Curran and Mayor Sly James

The 33rd president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, was no stranger to the Rockhurst University campus.

He wasn’t an alumnus — though he was reportedly once in conversations to join the faculty following his presidency, in the days before presidential pensions — but during World War I, then-captain Truman led Battery D, comprised largely of Rockhurst students. He also visited campus many times, including in 1960, when he met with then-University president the Rev. Maurice Van Ackeren, S.J. He was even known to attend the institution’s commencement exercises.

But this week, a new chapter in the relationship between Truman and Rockhurst began, as the Truman Library Institute opened its doors to students for an inaugural event Thursday at its new facility in an office suite at the University’s north parking garage at 5151 Troost Ave.

With offices for institute staff and a multipurpose space for meetings and educational opportunities, the new space will serve primarily as the home of the institute, which serves as the nonprofit fundraising and programming arm of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. The library itself, one of 13 such presidential libraries established by the National Archives and Records Administration, will remain at its current location, in Truman’s hometown of Independence, Missouri.

The Institute will not only continue to support the museum, but plans to expand educational offerings and partnerships with both Rockhurst and other area institutions of higher learning. The chairman of the institute’s board, Clyde Wendel, said the hope is that the institute and the library use the example of Truman and the challenges he faced on domestic issues such as the push for civil rights and global issues like the rebuilding of Europe after World War II to help form future generations of leaders to follow in Truman’s footsteps.

“Our strategic plan, which brings us to this space, is to engage the current generation of students from high schools, colleges and universities that will be the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “They should and must have the opportunity to see and hear of the thoughts and decisions that the president took in his time as our nation’s leader. Being located here, between our two urban universities, gives us a unique opportunity to achieve that and much more.”

Rockhurst University President the Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J., said he’s also been eagerly anticipating the move. Not just because he’s a self-professed presidential library “nerd” (he’s been to all 13), but also because of the possibilities for education and community engagement that comes with the newfound proximity to the institute. It’s a mission that Fr. Curran said does justice to Truman’s legacy and Rockhurst’s goals for its students.

“Rockhurst University has this tagline, ‘where leaders learn,’ and we’re very intentional about getting our community to reflect upon leadership,” he said. “Looking at the leadership of Harry Truman, this is someone who truly led on the world stage, inspired a nation, but never lost sight of his community.”

Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James, ’80, said he was happy to welcome the institute to its new location and the ensuing partnership, adding that the location, next to his undergraduate alma mater, seemed like a great spot.

“It’s natural and it’s great that Truman and his legacy would be, in some way, associated with Rockhurst. The things that he stood for are the things that Rockhurst stands for,” he said. “Service, engagement in the community, making hard decisions for the right reasons and doing the right thing at the right time for the right people.”

That was one of the big takeaways from the day for students who attended an inaugural event Thursday that included a presentation on Truman’s brand of presidential leadership by Mary McMurray, the institute’s director of learning and engagement.

“You can read the history lessons to learn about the different things that he did, but I learned a lot about his character, too, which I didn’t really know about,” said senior Virginia Vanegas.

Jay Torres, also a senior, said even though his presidency has long past, Truman’s example still has a lot of lessons to offer.

“He sounds like a student at Rockhurst,” he said. “I think it’s so hopeful to hear about a politician who did so much and was just trying to serve others. We don’t see that much today.”