Mary McMurray asks how many in a roomful of Rockhurst University students have been to the Truman Library in Independence. Quite a few hands go up.
“We’re going to work on getting all of you out there soon, OK?” she tells them.
She runs through some of Harry Truman’s accomplishments as president and key traits as a leader, including decisiveness, a willingness to seek out all points of view on an issue, and highly valuing the idea of public service.
“As the leader of the nation and free world after World War II, he decided to rebuild not only our allies but also our enemies in order to create a better world,” said McMurray, director of learning and engagement at the Harry S. Truman Library Institute.
She also mentioned the formation of NATO, diplomatic recognition of Israel, endorsing health care for all and -- in the midst of a tough election and a divided Democratic Party in 1948 -- ordering the racial integration of the Armed Forces and in federal hiring.
“Harry Truman was determined to do what’s right, not what’s popular,” she said.
McMurray spoke this week at the library institute’s new offices at 5151 Troost Ave. in Kansas City, on the edge of the Rockhurst campus. The institute is the non-profit partner of the Truman Library and sponsors many of the library’s programs in Independence and elsewhere.
Officials stress that the move will not affect programing at the museum in Independence. They say the new facility will offer a way to tell Truman’s story more widely, being at Rockhurst and across the street from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The institute had been housed at the library for years but left after a decision by the national archivist, David S. Ferriero, to have it move off federal property. Ferriero heads the National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees presidential libraries. He has refused to take questions about why he ordered the change.
At a ceremony for the new space this week officials stressed the parallels between Truman’s career and Rockhurst’s mission to promote leadership and service.
“We are very intentional about getting our community to reflect on leadership,” said the university’s president, the Rev. Thomas Curran.
In the spacious events room where McMurray spoke to the students and many more educational events are planned, Curran blessed the space with holy water – from the River Jordan in Israel – and noted the Truman-Israel connection.
“I look for a lot of discussions about leadership to come out of this room and building,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said.
The mayor called Truman a hero. He said he spoke his mind in a way that led to good discussion, not just headlines.
“He was a leader in addition to being a president and a politician, and we should not confuse those three things,” James said.
Good leaders are badly needed, he said.
“Not more politicians, not more poseurs, not more people who want to see their names in the headlines – but leaders,” he said.
Kurt Graham, director of the Truman Library, said he welcomes the association with Rockhurst. He told the students he hopes many of them become Truman Scholars. That’s a national scholarship program for students headed into careers in public service.
“The monument to Harry Truman is not made of marble,” he said. “It’s public service.”