This editorial ran in the Russell County News on December 9, 2021.
In the summer of 1945, a worried Bina Dole in Russell, Kansas, called my grandma, who with my grandpa lived in rural Russell County, searching for news about her son. My dad, an Army sergeant, was also serving in Italy, and Bina shared over their party line she hoped my dad could learn more about Bob, who was gravely wounded.
Ray, my dad, on leave began the search to find Bob, but discovered he had been evacuated for medical treatment. Those two mothers, anxious for the safety of their children half a world away, offered comfort to each other and worked together to try and find news of 2nd Lieutenant Dole. They demonstrated the care and concern often found in small towns across Kansas, and it was the care and character of the people in Russell that shaped Bob Dole into the American hero and exemplary statesman we all knew.
I am honored to serve in the “Dole seat” in the U.S. Senate and sit on the Senate floor in the “Dole desk” where I see his name carved into the desk drawer.
In small towns like Russell, there are differences of opinions, there are Republicans and Democrats and there are people who go to this church or that church. But when you’re in a small town, you have no choice but to get along, solve problems and work together.
As a young man, those values led Bob to swear an oath to protect and defend our country during World War II. On a battlefield in Italy, his life almost came to an end.
The injuries were horrific, tremendous and permanent. But his indomitable spirit helped him survive and endure the long road to recovery. And it was the people of Russell who collected donations in a cigar box on the same counter he worked behind as a soda jerk in high school to help make sure Bob’s medical expenses would be paid for. His wounds left him with a nearly paralyzed right arm, but Bob used his injuries to deepen his caring, not for himself, but for others.
He held an unmatched patriotism borne out of wartime sacrifice that marked every day of his life. Yet rather than ask for help, he offered it.
Sen. Dole can credit his view of life to his upbringing in a small Kansas town. He reflected, “The first thing you learn on the prairie is the relative size of a man compared to the lay of the land. And under the immense sky where I was born and raised, a man is very small. And if he thinks otherwise, he is wrong.”
Even after Sen. Dole became a household name across the country, he always returned back to his hometown to gain wisdom and begin each new chapter of his life.
"I think Bob can come here and get tranquility and strength," his sister, Gloria Nelson, said of Russell.
Following his injury during WWII, he returned to Russell to find strength and healing for his badly maimed body. After receiving the Vice Presidential nomination and amid the highs and lows of three Presidential campaigns, Russell always provided him a solid and steady place to land. Following the death of his brother, Kenny, in 1993, he returned to Russell to say goodbye. In 1996, members of his hometown gathered with Sen. Dole to celebrate his birthday. Following his loss to President Clinton that year, the town welcomed him again. He was a national and world leader, but he would always be a boy from Russell, a son of the Kansas plains.
Russell Townsley, the former publisher of the Russell Daily News, wrote regarding Sen. Dole’s plan to make his announcement to run for president in 1987 from a stage in Russell, “Skeptics ask what can Bob Dole – or Russell – hope to gain from this public show and professionally staged rally. And this is where the skeptics find themselves travelling blind. There’s no need to look for ulterior motives, for there are none. Dole and his town gain from each other. While one draws on unseen reserves that have nurtured him from childhood, the other grows strong from the aura reflected from the image of leadership and stature borne by the other.”
During his Vice Presidential run, Sen. Dole said, “I want to re-emphasize: If I’ve done anything it’s because of people I’ve known up and down Main Street. And I can recall the time when I needed help, the people of Russell helped.” That same cigar box that was used to collect donations to pay for Bob’s medical expenses after WWII was again given to Sen. Dole when he announced his campaign for president in 1996. Each time, more and more Kansans supported their hero.
To the people of Russell and to the people across Kansas, thank you for the manner in which you have shaped, treated and respected a man worthy of our admiration. Sadly, we say goodbye to one of our own.
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