Guest Opinions

When FDR came to Boise: His five-minute love letter to our city stands the test of time

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor visited Boise in 1937. The Roosevelts marveled at the tree-lined streets and the children enjoying the day.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor visited Boise in 1937. The Roosevelts marveled at the tree-lined streets and the children enjoying the day. Acme/Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Think presidential words have lost their power to uplift and inspire?

This September, Boiseans will reacquaint themselves with a gentler “alternative reality” — one rooted in neighborliness, compassion and simple human decency, and that no one, regardless of political persuasion or point-of-view, can fail to be moved by.

Nearly two years ago, my colleague Andy Brunelle and I proposed commemoration of President Franklin Roosevelt’s historic visit to Boise in 1937. You’ll soon see the results of our modest little initiative.

Supported by our East End and North End neighborhood associations and guided by the good folks at the city of Boise’s arts and history department, what so impressed President Roosevelt about Boise will now gain a measure of permanence in our town — entirely fitting, and needed now more than ever.

Dual panels honoring the Roosevelt visit and interpreting the New Deal’s impact on Boise and Idaho will sprout in front of Roosevelt Elementary School on East Jefferson Street and at North Junior High School at 13th and Fort streets. A simple bronze medallion will be set in Capitol Park, across from where Roosevelt spoke for perhaps five minutes before leaving Boise, never to return.

We’ll probably low-key their dedication this Sept. 27, the 80th anniversary of the Roosevelt presidential visit. History can’t be improved upon. The words in this presidential “love letter” speak for themselves:

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.

I am not just thinking of the … more or less petty problems of the day, the quarrels and disputes of the moment. I am trying to think about the bigger objectives of American life. I am trying to think about how we are going to make a better America for those children I passed this morning. ….

Many people helped us create a project whose timing, with 20/20 hindsight, now seems particularly appropriate. Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley encouraged Boiseans attending BSU’s Frank Church Conference in 2014 to read Roosevelt’s heartfelt homage to Boise.

Idaho’s late Gov. Cecil Andrus and former Idaho Attorney General David Leroy provided early, crucial encouragement. Mark Iverson and Brandi Burns in the city’s arts and history department administered the project. Art Gregory and his History of Idaho Broadcasting Foundation colleagues searched diligently for an audio recording of the 1937 speech — our “holy grail” we never uncovered.

North End signmaker Mark Baltes will print a walking/biking guide for Boiseans who’ll follow the 13-mile “Roosevelt Route” on their own, through historic neighborhoods and downtown, stitching greater “connectedness” into our town. Boise schools could not have been more supportive. We’re hoping their enterprising young, tech-savvy history students may invent an app for the route.

But we gained our greatest inspiration from Boise neighbors, too numerous to cite, who remember seeing and taking snapshots of the Roosevelts and who shared recollections and opened scrapbooks.

Presidential words do, indeed, leave a mark.

David Klinger is a resident of Boise’s North End.