LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - Bob Dole displayed his wit while imparting some wisdom during a visit to the University of Kansas campus Tuesday.
The 90-year-old former Kansas senator greeted a crowd of about 200 at the Dole Institute of Politics. Dole typically uses a wheelchair to get around, but he walked to the stage with assistance to the cheers of the flag-waving audience.
"I didn't expect to see so many people," Dole said. "It's heartwarming."
The visit to Lawrence came on the second day of a three-day tour through 10 Kansas cities. Dole said he suggested the tour a month ago. He says he wanted to come home to Kansas to thank people who supported him during more than 30 years in Congress.
"Kansas is a special place. It's home," Dole said. "You can take the boy out of Kansas but you can't take the Kansas out of the boy."
Dole's service to Kansas drew people to the event, including Cindy Bechard of Topeka and her mother, Nadine Dugan, who lives in western Kansas. Bechard said she wanted to see Dole because he is "important to our state and our nation."
Dugan said she believes Dole appeals to people because he is "genuine, friendly and to the point."
Dole's first cousins, Lu Ann Hullman and Sharon Fox, brought their families to see Dole. Even more than his service in Congress, the women say they were inspired as children, watching him overcome grave injuries suffered in World War II.
"It's amazing," Hullman said as she fought back tears. "He fought for our country. He went through a lot of injuries. To me, he stand for the American soldier. A lot of people don't realize what our past armed forces have fought for. That's why we're free and we're the country we've become."
Fox, too, remembers Dole's recovery after the war. However, she recalls even before that the young man who'd bring his younger cousins a gift when he attended family gatherings.
"I think the effort he is putting out (with this tour) is the same effort he put out when he was Senator," Fox said. "He's really making an effort to thank Kansas."
The ladies wanted to be sure the next generation of the family learned from Dole's example. From six-year-old Devyn Davis to 12-year-old Greg Ketcher to 14-year-old Seth Hughes and several other younger members of the extended family, all said they wanted to know this relative who did so much for the country.
Dole's sharp humor was on display when asked what advice he'd give his younger, freshman senator self.
"Know where the bathroom is!" Dole quipped.
But he became serious when asked the challenges faced by the next generation. Dole listed international hotbeds like North Korea, Ukraine, Iran and Syria. Closer to home, he cited supporting education and energy policy, like the Keystone Pipeline whose route runs through Kansas.
"We import a lot of foreign oil when we could be energy independent," Dole said.
Dole also said young people should be particularly concerned about balancing the budget, saying the nation is trillions of dollars in debt.
"Somehow, we need to reduce spending in certain areas," he said. "It's going to be very difficult."
As for how today's politicians should work it out, Dole remembers his approach.
"We worked together. We worked across the aisle," Dole said. "We didn't agree on everything but we got things done. Today, it's become gridlock."
The former U.S. Senate majority leader began his tour Monday with a reception at the local GOP headquarters in Overland Park. After his stop in Lawrence Tuesday, he visited Holton, Hiawatha and Troy. His visit wraps up Wednesday with stops in Atchison and Leavenworth. Dole plans another trip to Kansas in May.
Dole represented Kansas in Congress from 1961 to 1996, when he left the Senate to run against Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Wednesday Tour Stops
10:30 to 11:30 am - Jerry's Again Restaurant, 125 N. 5th St., Atchison
12:15 to 1:30 pm - Heritage Center, 109 Delaware St., Leavenworth