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This Session is named in honor of Dr. Robert E. Dunker, president emeritus of Western Iowa Tech Community College and founder of The Institute for Lifelong Learning. 

Presidents come and go. Some wielded great power; some had no ability to do anything. Others watched their power dribble away. Many who wanted to assert presidential power were slapped down hard by the legislative branch, which controlled the purse and were seen as the people that passed laws. 

Few men in the executive office not only grasped for power but attained it. Some wielded it with skill. Why could some do so while others failed? Much of that is due to the leadership skills of the person occupying the office. Historian Russ Gifford will look to a number of different presidents to analyze their skills, their challenges, how they fared, and how history judges them for their efforts. 

Part 1: Grover Cleveland – A Unique Story 

Corruptions such as unearned benefits via payoffs, kickbacks or favors rampaged across the American government in the last half of the 19th century. Business profits soared thanks to a federal government willing to incent railroads with land grants and cash or turn a blind eye to businesses creating sweetheart deals that cheated smaller businesses and workers. Abuse of power by arrogant politicians brought faith in the American system of government to an all-time low by the 1880s. 

Into this bedlam stepped Grover Cleveland, a man whose reputation was built on years of service demonstrating honesty, courage, and common sense. “Public office is a public trust,” he said, and he meant it. He opposed high tariffs and supported payments to businesses and farmers. He fought political corruption and the concept of party bosses. His integrity drew the “mugwumps” to cross party lines and vote for him, putting him into the presidency a scant 20 years after the destructive American Civil War ripped the country and the political parties apart. 

He would be the only man of his party to serve in the presidency in the 50 years following the war that killed more than 750,000 Americans, and he did it twice. He is the 22nd president and the 24th. He is the only president thus far to serve two unconnected terms. 

The wounds of the Civil War had not healed in 1884, but the people had had enough of arrogant politicians abusing power. They chose Cleveland to lead them out of the swamp of corruption. Cleveland proved a man of honesty and integrity could make a difference and begin healing the wounds of war as well. 

The Electoral College denied him his second consecutive term despite winning the popular vote. Unheard of in the century after it happened to Cleveland, this is yet another similarity to our times. He returned to office four years later and redeemed his reputation. But the damage done to the economy with the high tariffs of his predecessor led to an economic crash that took years to right. Historian Allen Nevins observed, “Under storms that would have bent any man of lesser strength, he ploughed straight forward, never flinching, always following the path that his conscience approved to the end.” 

We can learn from Cleveland’s example. Let’s come together on Wednesday night and see what this largely forgotten reformer can tell us! 


Location: Cargill Auditorium, Entrance 14, Lot 4 
Fee: No charge / Max: 200
Lifelong Learning membership not required


Part 2: Does the President Matter? Making the Case with Abraham, Martin, John, and Teddy 

Does the presidency still matter? Scholars say it does now more than ever. The shift in power from congress to the presidency means the president sets the agenda and the pace. The president’s actions can cause stocks to rise or fall and people to take heart or to despair. In this session, we visit past presidents to see examples of presidential leadership in action and discuss leadership methods that matter: 

Insight – the ability to correctly define issues 
Vision – to see a path that overcomes issues 
Communicator – the ability to share a vision and move people toward that vision 
Resolve – the perseverance to work toward that end 
Inclusiveness – an ability to work with others, for the greater good, not just a short term win. 

We will look at a number of cases where leaders made decisions and what the results were using Abraham Lincoln, Martin Van Buren, John F. Kennedy, and Theodore Roosevelt. 

Lincoln – The Choice to Fight 
Van Buren – The Trail of Tears and the Judgment of History 
Kennedy – Providing Leadership that Changes Minds 
T. Roosevelt – Choosing Sides – Putting the Presidency Behind the Miners 

Location: Cargill Auditorium, Entrance 14, Lot 4 
Fee: No charge / Max: 200
Lifelong Learning membership not required


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