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Portraying Teddy Roosevelt: Living Out History in North Dakota and Beyond

Posted by Kylie Blanchard, Co-Editor; Photos courtesy of Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation 6/12/2023 12:29:17 PM


As the world’s premier Theodore Roosevelt reprisor, Joe Wiegand’s attention to detail in sharing the character and stories of the 26th president has made him a sought-after performer for audiences of world dignitaries and elementary students alike.

With the President’s deep connection to North Dakota and the Badlands, it is the Medora resident’s role as an ambassador for North Dakota that also brings him great pride. “Theodore Roosevelt, the fully-forged man, emerged from his experience in the Badlands. He wrote it was there ‘that the romance of my life began,’” says Wiegand. “Connecting audiences to Teddy Roosevelt in Medora is about as special as it gets.”


A Love of History

Wiegand, a native of the suburbs of Chicago, says he found his love of history at a young age. “The ‘Land of Lincoln’ has a deep history. My early love of history and my falling in love with history was there,” he notes. “I read copiously, and presidential biography and military history were my favorites, and Theodore Roosevelt stands out in each of those categories.”

A political science graduate at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., Wiegand then embarked on a 25-year career in politics and public policy. “The example of Theodore Roosevelt continued to be, for me, an example of the strenuous life well-lived in the arena,” he notes.

Following the 9/11 attacks, Wiegand began to reconsider how he could better serve his country. He was gifted a copy of the Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris, which he says had a tremendous impact on him. “That book changed my life. I decided I could serve my country by bringing Theodore Roosevelt to life for audiences throughout the country.”

In 2002, he began performing as Teddy Roosevelt for schools and history museums, starting his own touring company “The Teddy Roosevelt Show.” “In early 2008, my wife, Jenny, and daughter, Sam, joined me and the family dog, Faith, on a research and performance tour,” says Wiegand. “I toured all 50 states, and finished with a performance at the White House for President and Mrs. George W. Bush on the occasion of Teddy Roosevelt’s 150th birthday. After that there was no looking back.” 


Becoming Teddy Roosevelt

“The thing I enjoy most about portraying Theodore Roosevelt is the opportunity to combine history and entertainment,” says Wiegand. “The substance of the history is, indeed, Rooseveltian in scope and scale, delivered in character as the man of whom his daughter said, ‘Father wanted to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening.”

Wiegand says he comes by the performance gene naturally, as his father was a comedian, but he notes this doesn’t diminish his efforts to portray the president as realistically as possible. “There are wonderful observations by Teddy Roosevelt’s family and friends that he was a tremendous entertainer and had a wonderful sense of humor,” he says. “I’m doing my best to present an entertaining version of the president.”

Even after 20 years in the role, he says his focus remains on “learning more, being better and being truer to the original.”

Wiegand notes his confidence has grown in his ability to extemporaneously select stories for a particular event. “I don’t have a script, and I have 60 hours or more of stories memorized. I really have to bring my A-game as a scholar and entertainer to make people think, ‘maybe I did just see Teddy Roosevelt.’”

“I continue to learn about Theodore Roosevelt through books and online sources,” he continues. “The best of these resources is the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University where their digitization of the writings of and about Theodore Roosevelt, his correspondence and more is a treasure trove.”

Audience members also provide him with unexpected information. “An audience member in San Antonio recently informed me Theodore Roosevelt was a member of Gideons – the Christian Travelling Men’s Association. He was indeed member 1,700, confirmed by the digital resources of Dickinson State’s TR Center.”

While Wiegand has performed as Teddy Roosevelt in all 50 states and internationally, he says his most memorable moments have been with school children. “I believe young people benefit by learning about the life and legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt overcame sickness and tragedy to live a very full life, committed to the service of his country. That’s a tremendous role model.”


Making Medora Home

In 2004, Wiegand made his first visit to Medora and says he fell in love with the community and its Badlands surroundings. “I visited at least a couple more times before I saw my Medora friend, Randy Hatzenbuhler (Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation president), at a White House performance. We stayed in touch and I accepted Randy’s invitation to perform an afternoon Teddy Roosevelt Show at Medora’s Old Town Hall in the summer of 2012.”

He has performed every summer since and, in 2019, accepted Hatzenbuhler’s offer to join the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation as a full-time Theodore Roosevelt reprisor and foundation ambassador. “I love to perform as Teddy Roosevelt, and in years past, might perform over 400 shows, mostly on the road, and often across 20 or more states each year,” says Wiegand. “Things have settled down.”

He says the attractiveness of having a place to stay and the opportunity to continue his research made the move to Medora an easy decision. “I perform over 100 times every summer in Medora, mostly as the ‘Teddy Roosevelt Show’ and often at banquets, company events or family reunions,” he notes. “I perform throughout our region and across the country as a goodwill ambassador for Medora and continue to perform my show under the auspices of our family company.”

As the new Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library gets underway, he says the facility, slated for completion in 2026, will be a treasure for the state and country. “Situated at the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and contiguous to the Maah Daah Hey Trail, with the family fun activities of Medora so nearby, the presidential library promises to be a destination that families will enjoy for decades.”  

Wiegand says his roles as a Teddy Roosevelt reprisor and ambassador for Medora and the state is a humbling privilege. “It is a distinct honor to bring Teddy Roosevelt to life in a region and in Medora, where his legacy is still alive,” he notes. “We are in a place where the life and inspiration of Teddy Roosevelt will be remembered.” 

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