“The president of the United States and the first lady will drop by your house tomorrow morning, around 10 o’clock ...”
Maybe by today’s standards, but in 1937 it actually happened ... right here in Boise.
President and first lady Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt spent their morning motoring through the North and East Ends, just waving to the folks, out on the town for a leisurely drive. Residents on Ridenbaugh, Resseguie, Warm Springs and dozens of other Boise boulevards had hardly finished their morning Idaho Daily Statesman when the president of the United States passed by.
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Roosevelt’s first, only and decidedly nonpolitical visit to Boise is now almost forgotten in the City of Trees. Yet it drew a crowd of 15,000 before the Idaho Statehouse — the largest gathering, to date, in the history of Idaho.
The president had arrived at the Boise Depot on Sept. 27 en route to Oregon, where Roosevelt would later dedicate the Columbia River’s mammoth new Bonneville Dam and Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge.
But when it came to Boise, Roosevelt endeavored to celebrate public works of a far subtler nature — its quiet, leafy neighborhoods and the residents and their children who lived there. The presidential party spent nearly an hour criss-crossing the city, passing most of Boise’s schools, quietly paying homage to the intangible values that we as Boiseans take pride in maintaining three generations later.
And it was before the assembled downtown crowd that Roosevelt chose to deliver a short, entirely extemporaneous and utterly charming ode to Boise, perhaps the most touching “love letter” that a president has ever voiced in behalf of a city:
“I shall never forget this morning. When I look back on today’s visit to Boise, I shall think chiefly of two things; first, your beautiful, tree-lined streets, and secondly, your children.
“There is something about children and trees that makes me think of permanence and the future. It is not by any means the sole task of the presidency to think about the present. One of the chief obligations of the presidency is to think about the future.
“One reason why a president of the United States ought to travel throughout the country and become familiar with every state is that he has a great obligation to think about the days when he will no longer be president, to think about the next generation and the generation after that.
“I am trying to think about how we are going to make a better America for those children that I passed this morning.”
Roosevelt’s words appear nowhere in Boise today, except in obscure archives and history books. His full “love letter” is found at: presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15468.
My East End colleague Andy Brunelle and I believe something greater is needed. We’ve proposed that Roosevelt’s words be commemorated someplace in Boise by the 80th anniversary of the Roosevelt visit in 2017 ... perhaps some quiet, tree-shrouded corner of a park might be the appropriate setting for Roosevelt’s “love letter” to resonate with today’s generation of parents and their children.
Our neighborhood associations and the city of Boise have kindly endorsed our effort recently with a modest neighborhood reinvestment grant. We’ll be asking for your ideas and your suggestions soon.
But right now, in this era of inflamed political rhetoric, perhaps it is simply enough to just reread the simple, heartfelt words that Franklin Roosevelt spoke in Boise eight decades ago, and to reflect on our good fortune in living here.
David Klinger lives in Boise’s North End.