The grandson of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the nation’s 34th president, is a director for the Institute for Public Affairs, Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He and his three sisters had a unique access to the White House when Ike and and Mamie resided there from 1953-61.
David Eisenhower believes Ike’s story of integrity, self sufficiency, hard work, dedication and devotion is one this country needs now more than ever. His grandfather was champion of the middle class who did not believe people should be defined by race, religion or economic circumstance.
Ike would be appalled by the national debt today, estimated to be about $14.3 trillion, his grandson said.
“The debt would stun him,” he said.
He would be concerned about the elderly losing benefits, but at a higher level he also understood the national debt would be paid by future generations. He would be concerned about the debt college students incur to further their education.
Dwight Eisenhower warned against excessive spending as he left office in 1961, noting its impact on the average American.
He warned about the nation about entering a period of uncertain debt and insolvency in his farewell address.
“The Dwight Eisenhower presidency was during an era of the draft, with a national manufacturing sector that was second to none and the United States was the dominant military,” he said.
David Eisenhower believed that his grandfather would not have approved of policies that weaken the manufacturing sector. He did not accept virtues extolled by Hollywood because fame was fleeting, but substance mattered. His father would have been appalled by unchecked financial derivatives or manipulating mortgages, both of which have hurt the average American.
“What impressed me about the Eisenhower story is the energy and hard work he put into his presidency and life,” he said. “He was a statesman who understood the country in profound ways and left quite a impression. How did it happen? Through hard work.”
Every president stands for certain principles, he said, and Ike’s principles were ones Americans could embrace.
“The Eisenhower story is well-known in Abilene,” he said and one reason he was supportive of a reorganization of the Eisenhower Foundation board of directors that he believes can tap into resources that will allow the story to be told to more Americans.
The Eisenhower Foundation is nearly 65 years old, he said. Like older presidential libraries, the Eisenhower Foundation needed to refocus.
“We are at the point we needed to retool,” he said.
The action will allow the foundation to grow in financial resources and the result will take a greater role for Eisenhower family members to be involved, David said. He and his three sisters, Anne, Susan and Mary Jean, are involved and committed to seeing Ike and Mamie’s legacy preserved. David and Anne are co-chairs of the foundation.
Longtime board member Stewart Etherington remains a local anchor as does Bruce Dale, who chairs the Abilene committee. Another core committee member is Cynthia Hostetler, who has ties to the Manhattan region as well as New York City. They all work closely with director Mack Teasley and his assistant Meredith Sleichter.
“Our plan, put simply, is to build an endowment fund and build it quickly,” David Eisenhower said. “The potential of reaching certain thresholds is there and the Eisenhower Foundation can expand and that’s when the family can step aside.”
As part of his duties at Penn, a point of emphasis is presidential speeches in which graduate and undergraduate students are required to travel and do onsite research. He has about 15 projects he has to grade per semester.
“This has given me a sense of what presidential programs can do,” he said. “Every presidency is different and everyone has a different meaning.”
From personal experience he knows the Eisenhower Presidential Library is one of the most important depositories of presidential information about 20th century history outside of the National Archives and Records Administration.
He was impressed by the number of donations by Eisenhower administration staffers.
“The upside for the Eisenhower Foundation is the Eisenhower presidency is up and his stature has grown over the years,” he said. “I’m here to ‘evangelize’ in that area and get the ball rolling. That’s why the Abilene council is important.”
During his two-day visit, David Eisenhower was going to meet with Gov. Sam Brownback and state legislators. The foundation has ambitious long-term goals, he said, which will be good for preserving Ike’s legacy and Abilene as well as Kansas.
He said there are three tier of presidential foundations that generally are in three cateogories -- the Reagan, Clinton and Carters which are heavily endowed. The Clinton foundation has more than $1 billion in endowment. Such funding is used to carry out initiatives those presidents felt were important to them.
The second tier of presidential foundations apply to institutions such as Nixon, Johnson and Kennedy. Those foundations stress scholarships and legacy activities. Those foundations range from $20 million to $60 million in assets.
“They have a significant legacy operation in place and they are great places to do research,” Eisenhower said.
The Johnson library, which is in Austin, Texas, is an a popular place because of its connection to the University of Texas as well as its emphasis on the popular research topics -- Vietnam and civil rights.
The third tier is libraries that include Truman, Eisenhower, Hoover and Roosevelt that tend to be regional in their approach and very scholarship oriented, he said. David Eisenhower believes the Eisenhower Foundation should have a goal of being in the second tier beause it fits Ike’s personality. The $20 million to $60 million is ambitious and realistic, he said, and he is fully committed to keeping it in Abilene where it belongs.
“There was a debate (many years ago) whether the presidential library should be in Abilene or in Gettysburg, Pa.,” David Eienhower said. “Dwight Eisenhower made a major statement and said this (Abilene) is where I’m from.”
David Eisenhower said his father, John S.D. Eisenhower, and David’s siblings agree that Abilene has to be the base. David Eisenhower believes the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum is the best place for researchers of all ages to learn about the nation’s history from the perspective of the nation’s 34th president. It is centrally located and is on a major corridor -- Interstate 70.
He has been pleased to receive news that attendance at the Eisenhower Center has increased in recent years and interest in scholarships has increased, too.
The Eisenhower Foundation is essential in the process because it provides resources for public programming and supporting activities that promote Ike’s legacy. The foundation will continue to pursue partnership possibilities. Over the years the foundation has forged ties with Kansas State University and Fort Leavenworth.
The foundation wants to continue to bring events that inform citizens about their country. The foundation will continue to be promotional oriented, David said. He smiles with ease when asked about the star of the story.
“All of this is based on the institution that preserves and tells the story of my grandfather, one of the most important leaders of the 20th century,” David Eisenhower said. “The mid 20th century was one of great distress.”
Coming off the devastation of Europe as a result of World War II was the start of the Cold War, he said. Dwight Eisenhower proved to be the tested leader who grew up in Abilene and David Eisenhower said those roots prepared him for the world stage.
“His character was developed in a climate of no excuses,” David Eisenhower said, and his character was reinforced through hard work and dedication.
David Eisenhower said his grandfather toiled in anonymity until World War II but when called upon he responded and his character was honed in Abilene. David Eisenhower said his favorite quote about his grandfather came shortly after the war when Ike was honored by his hometown and his grandfather proudly proclaimed that he was from Abilene. As a result, David said he and the foundation board have made that their full commitment to that ideal. David Eisenhower said he remains humbled when he comes to Abilene to see where it all got started.
“He was not born into greatness,” he said. “He never wanted to be famous and he did not seek fame. He was ready when called to duty.”