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For Immediate Release
January 15, 2004

Remarks by First Lady Laura Bush at Preserve America Event
The East Room

2:30 P.M. EST

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all very, very much. I'm so glad you're here. Thank you for joining us. Welcome to the White House. I want to thank Senator Burns, Congressman Gilchrest and Congressman Turner for being here today. Thank you all for coming.

I'm also really happy to see two members of the President's Cabinet, Secretary Mineta and Secretary Veneman. Thank you all for being here.

Thanks to Fran Mainella and to Mary Peters for your leadership, and to Governor Pawlenty from Minnesota for his work on the on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

We have the students over here. I see the students from Alice Deal Junior High School and from Franklin High School. They might be excited to be out of school for a little while. (Laughter.) But the great thing about learning is that it can happen anywhere. And certainly there's no place better to learn about history than here in one of America's most historic homes.

In this very room, President Jefferson's secretary, Meriwether Lewis, lived while he planned the Corps of Discovery. Seven Presidents have lain in state here, including Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. President Johnson signed the civil rights bill here. And in this room, this state is a perfect stage for entertainers. And American artists and performers, the best from our whole history, have performed here for Presidents and their guests.

Of course, some events have been more humorous than historic. President Adams' laundry hung to dry here in this room. (Laughter.) The White House was so new, there was no glass in the windows and this was a very drafty and perfect place to hang out your laundry. (Laughter.) And Teddy Roosevelt's children used these great floors as a roller skating rink. (Laughter.) President Ford's daughter, Susan, danced here during her senior prom.

And Dolly Madison saved this very famous portrait of George Washington, as she escaped the White House right before the British burned it in 1814. Dolly Madison knew that this portrait was a very important part of American history, and she realized the importance of saving it, saving this treasure for future generations.

Preserve America was formed for the very same reason, and that is to ensure that we save all of our historic landmarks and our cultural specialties so that we can have them for future generations. This initiative also rewards communities for preserving historic resources with a special designation. And today, we honor the first eight Preserve America communities.

Whether they have revitalized their historic districts or transformed a power plant into a new city hall, these communities demonstrate a strong commitment to preserving our heritage. I commend the mayors, the city officials, and the residents of Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Versailles, Kentucky; Key West, Florida; Putnam County, New York; Dorchester County, Maryland; Delaware, Ohio; Augusta, Georgia; and Castroville, Texas. Congratulations to the first Preserve America communities. (Applause.)

To help more communities achieve your success, the President's 2005 budget includes a proposal for $10 million for preservation efforts that enhance education and tourism. America's home towns and main streets are vital parts of our communities. And by ensuring their success, we strengthen America.

And by making our home towns vibrant places to live, we inspire young people to make their communities their classrooms. In the communities we honor today, children learn their history as they learn the importance of preservation.

Students in Steamboat Springs celebrate Historic Preservation Month every May by exploring restored landmarks on historic walking tours. At the Woodford County Historical Society in Versailles, local historians encourage children to get involved in preservation. Students in Key West can explore an early slave shipwreck at the Mel Fisher Museum, while in Putnam County, fourth graders can relive history in a 19th century schoolroom at the Foundry School Museum.

In Dorchester County, students learn about Harriet Tubman in an annual heritage celebration. And in Delaware, Ohio, students study historic Indian mounds at the High Banks Metro Park. Elementary students in Augusta dress up as their favorite character in state history for the annual Heritage Day Parade.

And in Castroville, Students have many opportunities to learn their history thanks to the Castroville Conservation Society. Seventh graders celebrate African American History Month by performing plays like Buffalo Soldier. And the Society gives college-bound seniors scholarships for majoring in history.

These communities are committed to helping children discover their past and it's vitally important for young people to learn about their history. An understanding and an appreciation of history makes every American a more engaged citizen.

John Adams said liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people. But studies show that many students don't know their history. According to a Roper survey, 40 percent of college seniors could not place the Civil War in the correct half of its century, and 66 percent could not identify George Washington as an American general at Yorktown.

We must increase our efforts to teach young people that an understanding about the past is essential for our future. Preserve America has developed two new initiatives to help students learn this vitally important lesson. Preserve America has worked with the History Channel's Save Our History to support the creation of a history education manual. This guide provides teachers with lesson plans and with ideas to get students involved with preserving historical sites in their own communities.

Preserve America is also working with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to honor outstanding teachers. This year, we'll be accepting nominations for the first Preserve America History Teacher of the Year Award. Teachers from across the country can be nominated and a national History Teacher of the Year will be selected from this group. Dr. Basker of the Gilder Lehrman Institute will say more about this award in just a few moments.

All of our speakers today have great news to share with us, including John Nau, who will say more about our Preserve America communities. John must have had a great history teacher, because he has dedicated much of his life to sharing and studying history.

When I lived in Texas, John and I worked together on the state's Main Street program to help communities preserve their historic downtowns. We spent many hot days visiting Texas Main Streets during those years. John is chairman of the Texas Historical Commission and he is a member of the board of the Civil War Preservation Trust. He's a great historian and a good friend.

Please welcome Chairman John Nau. (Applause.) Thank you, John.

* * * * *

MRS. BUSH: Congratulations, again, to all of the Preserve America communities. They're so outstanding, and I know everyone here wants to visit all of them; I certainly do.

Thank you, Dan Davids, very much and Dr. Basker, for your commitment to education. And congratulations again to everyone who's here. Your success and the initiatives and grants announced today will continue to inspire communities across America to preserve our heritage.

As John said, when he was telling us about Theodore Roosevelt, President Roosevelt was a great champion of conservation and preservation. He preserved lands for public use and he expanded the national forest in the west. He also taught his own children to value their heritage.

When they weren't skating right here in the East Room -- (laughter) -- the Roosevelt children loved spending time with their father, who they called T.R. They often played hide-and-seek in the attic and they spent time with the family pets, which included pigs and a bear and a pony named Algonquin. Once when Archie was sick in bed, his brothers brought the pony up on the President's elevator to visit him. (Laughter.)

President Roosevelt often wrote letters to his children when they were apart. In a letter to his son in November 1903, he wrote: "Dear Ted, I wonder if you're old enough yet to care for a good history of the American revolution. If so, I think I shall give you mine, by Sir George Trevelyan. I really think it, on the whole, the best account I have read. If I give it to you, you must be very careful with it, because he sent it to me himself."

President Roosevelt knew how important it was for children to learn about the past and he knew the value of a great story. Our history is a precious gift to every one of us, and today we reaffirm our duty as parents, as teachers, as students and as citizens to cherish and continue the American story.

Now, let's join each other in the State Dining Room for the reception. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)


3:07 P.M. EST

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