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Sunday, July 25, 2004

Roosevelt's legacy is "an inspiration'

Union Station houses FDR museum

Pamela H. Sacks

Dr. Joseph J. Plaud, left, president and founder of the FDR Center, and, in the background from left, state Rep. Robert P. Spellane, D-Worcester, Nick R. Roosevelt and James R. Roosevelt Jr., sing the national anthem during yesterday's grand opening.
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Nick R. Roosevelt, a great-grandson of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stood by with a wide, Kennedy-esque smile yesterday as his uncle, James R. Roosevelt Jr., cut the ceremonial gold ribbon opening the Franklin D. Roosevelt American Heritage Center Museum in Union Station.

The snip of the scissors capped a patriotic ceremony attended by about 220 people, many of them veterans of World War II, for whom FDR is more a vivid memory than a historical figure. The event started with the posting of the colors by the Vernon Hill American Legion Post 435 Color Guard.

Speakers included U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester; Robert Bullock, director of institutional advancement at the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in Hyde Park, N.Y.; state Rep. Robert P. Spellane, D-Worcester; City Councilor Thomas P. White; and Edward Augustus, Democratic candidate for Worcester's Second District Senate seat.

Author and workingman's hero Studs Terkel, 92, addressed the audience by video, calling FDR "an inspiration of mine" and "the best president of the last century."

Mr. McGovern noted that FDR stopped at Union Station two times, so it seemed a perfect choice for the location of the museum. He mentioned that, in his office in the nation's capital, he has hanging on a wall FDR's four freedoms, as depicted by Norman Rockwell: Freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom to worship.

The congressman said that FDR demonstrated that government can be a force for good, pointing out that Social Security makes up half the income of more than 60 percent of senior citizens.

"I look forward to bringing my children to this museum," Mr. McGovern said, gesturing to his 3-year-old daughter. "As she gets older, I want to teach her about the legacy of FDR."

Stanley Bockstein of Holden was among the World War II veterans who made up the audience. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in India, among other locations, and is a member of the China, Burma and India Association. He described the museum as "very important, very appropriate."

"As a child of the 20th century, I want to know as much as I can about the era I lived through," said Mr. Bockstein, 81.

The museum is the brainchild of Dr. Joseph J. Plaud, who, inspired by his grandmother, started collecting FDR and New Deal memorabilia when he was a teenager.

Dr. Plaud, a 39-year-old forensic psychologist from Whitinsville, has since amassed what is widely considered to be finest collection of its kind in private hands. It includes hundreds of unique signed documents, photographs and artifacts, which will be on display on a rotating basis in the museum's quarters - not far from the jazz club, Union Blues. Admission to the museum is free; donations are accepted.

Dr. Plaud, who keeps encyclopedic knowledge of FDR in his head, said in his remarks that the former president greatly valued museums and libraries. He quoted FDR as saying: "We must believe in the past, we must believe in the future, and we must believe in the capacity of people to learn so that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future lives."

In that spirit, Dr. Plaud said, he worked for two years to open the museum under the auspices of his nonprofit center dedicated to FDR's legacy. A component of the museum, which is administered by archivist Cyrus D. Lipsitt, will be educational programs for children in the Worcester public schools. Scholars and students at the city's colleges and universities will be able to use the rich cache of historical materials.

Each of the speakers touched on the role FDR played in lifting the country out of the Great Depression. When he took office in 1933, FDR inspired hope with his fireside chats and created great public works projects to put people back to work.

"He had the courage and compassion to realize what a man needed was a hand and not a handout," said Mr. White.

Mr. Bullock remarked that interest in the Roosevelts has not diminished over time, and he anticipates years of collaboration between the institute in Hyde Park, once the seat of the Roosevelt family, and the new museum.

Presidential scholar and author Stanley L. Klos last night gave the keynote address for the event. In a telephone interview earlier in the week, Mr. Klos said that the FDR center and its museum are important because "history is a crystal ball of the future."

"What were the challenges of the past and what worked and what didn't?" Mr. Klos said. "No one went through more perilous times than FDR."

Mr. Klos said that one of the key accomplishments of FDR was the electrification of America. When he took office, 90 percent of homes had no electricity, prompting people to forsake rural areas for the cities. FDR created the rural electrical authorities, which brought power to the countryside.

"He understood the key to prosperity was inexpensive power," Mr. Klos said. "He bottled up the natural resources."

FDR also was the impetus behind the Manhattan Project, which split the atom, led to the development of the atom bomb and ultimately harnessed nuclear power as an energy source. Today, Mr. Klos said, demands on energy and oil are skyrocketing, as people around the world seek to have disposable income and the type of life we know in the United States, with automobiles and other modern conveniences.

"Germany is only second behind us in oil consumption," Mr. Klos said. "If China reaches the proportion of people with cars that we have in the U.S., that will exhaust OPEC's oil reserves. As our needs grow for more and more energy, we are going to be in an extremely competitive field."

What would Roosevelt do?

"He would realize that the world is now a global economy, and there is a war of economics," Mr. Klos said. "Yes, we're in a terrorist war right now, but the global war has shifted to a competition for natural resources and quality of life."

In Mr. Klos' view, FDR would realize the key is weaning ourselves off oil and its importation. He would be aware that the electrical grid he put together wastes enormous amounts of energy because it has not been upgraded and fails to make use of superconductivity.

"We could do what Japan, France and Germany have done and use the next generation of breeder reactors that are so efficient," Mr. Klos said. "FDR would be calling another Manhattan Project to see, with our greatest minds, if we could find a third form of energy and supply the needs of the United States and prepare the country for the oil shortage that is coming in the next 20 years."

As the morning's activities drew to a close, Worcester writer and photographer Idamay Arsenault was presented with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition by Mr. McGovern. Through her photography, Mrs. Arsenault is credited with spearheading the renaissance at Union Station. Mr. McGovern also presented Dr. Plaud with a flag flown over the Capitol.

Later, as guests milled around munching doughnuts and cookies, Nick Roosevelt stood to one side while his uncle signed autographs. The young Mr. Roosevelt is 18 and grew up in Berkeley, Calif. He was headed to the Democratic National Convention in Boston to serve as a volunteer. He is entering the University of Pennsylvania in the fall and intends to major in history and government.

"All the Roosevelts, we all love history," he said, flashing a grin.

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