In the News

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran pays a visit to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Museum

Salina Journal: Jayden Smith

ABILENE — Sen. Jerry Moran paid a visit to Abilene’s recently reopened Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Museum Friday morning to learn about the progress of reopening the whole campus from COVID-related protocols.

The trip comes after Moran sent the National Archives and Records Administration a letter expressing his disappointment in NARA's partial reopening of the campus that includes the museum, presidential library and Eisenhower's childhood home.

Chief among his concerns were that the federal guidelines did not properly correspond to local needs and that other libraries have recently opened for more days for longer hours and without requiring advance purchase of tickets limited to groups.

"It would require minimal effort from NARA to converse with local officials about plans for reopening," Moran wrote. "The failure to put forth such effort suggests callous indifference at best and willful neglect at worst."

Museum progress continues

The senator was joined by Museum Director Dawn Hammatt, Meredith Sleichter, the executive director of the Eisenhower Foundation, Executive Director Chuck Scott of the Dickinson County Economic Development Corporation, and Abilene Mayor Brandon Rein.

Hammatt reported that she was able to reopen the Place of Meditation, the final resting place of Eisenhower, his wife Mamie and their son Doud, Wednesday. It will now be open on the same schedule as the museum at 25 percent capacity, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

“I’ve been really pleased at how quickly things change once the guidance changes,” Hammatt said, referencing the decision to drop the museum's mask mandate once the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced the action was permitted.

Moran asked about the changes that need to occur to allow increased staffing and increased hours as a result. The main challenges are a matter of scheduling and having enough security guards in place for ticket-taking.

Under the OMB’s rules, full operating availability is not yet allowed, but once the guidance changes all furloughed part-time employees will be able to work again.

While Moran toured through the museum, Hammatt spoke of the increased demand for tickets and the success of the recently opened exhibits.

The museum has also been able to engage with the local community and reach other groups across the country and internationally in presenting information, working with people in Germany, Poland and Caribbean nations.

“It’s been astounding that the reach has spread because of our online capacity,” Hammatt said.

Even after they return to providing in-person programming, they look to continue broadening their influence with the virtual learning programs. Sleichter added that they were able to teach 14,000 students in the past school year, and that the museum participated in numerous partnerships that provided valuable experiences.

“I think we’ve learned that there’s opportunities for us that we didn’t know existed through technology,” Moran responded.

Future advancements

An additional piece of good news is that Hammatt’s progression plan was approved, which included the potential to expand museum operations to Monday through Saturday and begin a much-needed renovation on the Presidential Boyhood Home.

Improvements to the home will consist of new paint, roofing, a fire suppression system, and updated HVAC system.

While the approval signifies the home will be closed for a decent amount of time, Hammatt said that it was necessary to take the time to provide the older structure with love. 

“I am overwhelmed about the excitement, for me, to be able to do renovations on the Boyhood Home,” Hammatt said. “It’s a big project.” 

Going back to Washington

Moran took away that the biggest need for the entire campus was for him to speak with those involved in Washington, D.C. to focus on bringing back full availability and staffing.

“Part of the takeaway is that we no longer have the transient guest tax revenues that we used to have, which means we can market less,” he said. “I would think that when the library is fully staffed and open, there’s a great marketing opportunity to figure out how we bring in people who, perhaps, have been waiting for this opportunity.”

Mayor Rein added that those revenues allow the Convention and Visitors Bureau to market the other parts of Abilene, which has resulted in a significant loss recently. The hit has affected the ability to encourage people to come to town, even though Abilene is relatively open besides the museum campus.

The consensus in the room was that the best way to help the city is to have the other attractions bring in staff and have the decision be in local hands regarding what to do next, but Moran is determined to make his voice heard in D.C. as well.