Monday, April 2, 2012

Rough Rider Ghosts In Aledo

By Kyle McEwen

(Editors note: This is the second in a series of articles dealing with problems facing communities outside of Warren County.)

Nearly a century after his death, the influence of Theodore Roosevelt remains alive in nearby Aledo, Illinois. At Aledo’s city council meeting last month, a project was proposed which would restore buildings of the Roosevelt Military Academy, a military school in northwest Aledo named after America’s 26th president.

The school existed within Aledo’s city limits from 1931 until 1973, enrolling 6,800 cadets from across the United States in its 42 year history. Despite its storied past, the City Council dealt with a possibly fatal future of the RMA. Representatives from the RMA’s alumni association, the Rough Riders, were on hand at the meeting with a proposal to commemorate one of Aledo’s storied landmarks. Tara Sipes, Mercer County historian and Rough Riders staff member, presented options to the council in hopes of garnering interest for the project.

“Re-use options are limitless. If people are willing to put the time, money and effort into the buildings, we could have a room or two or three dedicated to a museum for the RMA. We could have a banquet facility, meeting space, or another bed & breakfast style building. The buildings may need to be torn down; in that case it could become a park,” Sipes stated before a capacity crowd at the Aledo City Hall.
The city of Aledo was at one time home to a four-year educational institution, William & Vashti College.

By 1919 financial constraints had forced the school to shut its doors. Simultaneously, a military school in Kansas suffered a devastating fire, and sought out Aledo as a suitable destination for relocation. Thus, the Illinois Military School was established on the campus of the defunct William & Vashti College. During IMS’ first two years of existence, a large, Victorian style building was erected as a dormitory. Those who devoted funds to construction of the building ultimately lost their wealth in the Great Depression, forcing the Illinois Military School to close and file for bankruptcy. A group of administration members then pooled their funds to reopen the school as the Roosevelt Military Academy in 1931.

Many have speculated about where the Roosevelt moniker originated. “The name itself was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt and the principles and tenets with which he lived his life. The slogan of the school was ‘Builders of Men’; Teddy Roosevelt was about as manly as they come,” said Sipes. Aside from inspiration, the Roosevelts contributed physical beauty to Aledo’s landscape. Theodore’s wife Eleanor personally donated a tree from the Roosevelt estate in New York to commemorate Theodore’s 80th birthday, in 1938. The tree remains standing on the northwest part of town.

The Rough Riders Association brought to the meeting a scale model of a proposed statue which would accompany the aforementioned restorations. Standing fifteen feet tall, the proposed monument would be comprised of a black marble base, into which images of the RMA campus and one of Theodore Roosevelt’s most famous speeches, ‘The Man in the Arena’ would be engraved. The base would serve as support for a statue of Roosevelt, in full Rough Rider regalia on a bucking horse; San Juan Hill style. When asked about the state of the project going forward, Aledo mayor Bill Breeden replied, “The next thing the council will have to address will simply be the location of the statue. The rest of the project takes care of itself.”

A feasibility study will take place in the coming weeks to determine if the buildings on the RMA campus are salvageable. If not, a demolition plan will be implemented. Mayor Breeden remains optimistic about the future. “The cadets feel there should be a Rough Rider memorial somewhere in the town of Aledo, which there will be. Personally I think it’s exciting, a great project. The RMA was a big part of our history for a long time.” Breeden stated. Sipes was pleased with the reception the project received at the meeting, and had but one request. “We’re hoping to have the monument placed in a location of honor rather than tucked away in some obscure portion of the city,”

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