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you would not think there would be much of a call for Theodore Roosevelt these days, but in addition to his nightly appearances at the theatre, Wayne Dellinger has appeared at Pioneer Living History Museum and at a breakfast meeting of the Institute of Real Estate Managers, as well as in front of classes of schoolchildren. He has addressed the Forest Service and singles groups.
The number of such appearances, in fact, encouraged Wayne Dellinger to give up his job at Sun State Savings--that was last year--and devote himself completely to his new career. He had business cards printed, and installed in his house an answering machine that does nothing but deal with the Theodore Roosevelt side of his life. When he gives interviews to talk about why he does what he does, he wears a brown wig parted down the middle and little wire-rim glasses. The wig changes his appearance so much, he says, that people who know him from work don't recognize him in costume. Dellinger, luckily, is nearsighted, so he has a good excuse to wear the little wire-rim glasses. Unfortunately, however, his girth is less ample than that of TR in his prime, but there is at least a suggestion.
You can see, even with the wig and glasses, that Wayne Dellinger is a fairly unremarkable-looking man in his 40s. He lives in a house that has one of those living rooms that looks like people spend absolutely no time there, because there are no newspapers on the floor or other signs of normal human messiness.
There are, however, Toastmaster awards over the fireplace. About a decade ago, Wayne Dellinger went through a rough divorce. He came out of it, as many men do, with a desire to see what else life has to offer. Rather than turning his attention to younger blondes, however, Dellinger began going to Omega, which he describes as "a personal-growth group." Omega places an emphasis on testing one's limits.
One task, for instance, required enrollees to talk to a stranger in a public place and give the person something to eat. Dellinger put on an uncharacteristic headband, open shirt and gold chain, and entered the Greyhound bus station. He selected a target, sat next to him, struck up a conversation with him and offered him a stick of gum. He even managed to get the man's name and telephone number. As a result of Omega, Dellinger also went skydiving. He passed out on the way down. He spent a day at a nudist colony. He also joined Toastmasters, an organization dedicated to helping people overcome what is said to be the most pervasive fear in human life--public speaking. Members prepare little talks, or are called upon to deliver impromptu chats on suggested topics. Listeners clink their glasses--meetings tend to be at breakfast--when the speaker says, "Um."
Wayne Dellinger not only discovered he loved public speaking, he gave up his day job to pursue it. wayne dellinger H is clearly not an actor. His performance as TR is not really a performance as much as a lecture by a man who happens to be wearing a costume and pretending he is someone else. It is a labor of love.
Like many people speaking in public these days, he tends to fall into the rhythms of standup comedians, cadences that Theodore Roosevelt surely never possessed. And when he delivers one of his funny lines, he says "Yeahmmmmf" at the end, as if unconsciously waiting for the laugh.
Dellinger appeared one rainy morning at a breakfast meeting of the Institute of Real Estate Managers, one of whom he knew from Toastmasters. There he was, on the top floor of the Citicorp building, gray clouds visible through enormous windows behind him, muffin crumbs and half-full glasses of orange juice before him, telling men and women in suits anecdotes from Theodore Roosevelt's life.
The real estate folks paid a polite although somewhat puzzled attention.
"I think," Dellinger said later, "I should have spent more time on the subject of managing properties by using a 'Big Stick' philosophy in business. What I did was tell interesting stories. But to me the stories are more fun to listen to."
Wayne Dellinger's feelings toward Theodore Roosevelt are not the sort that would easily allow him to use the former president as a selling device. Wayne Dellinger is something of a missionary in the church of Theodore Roosevelt. He admires the decency of the man who rose above the dirty politics of the time, the energy that prompted him to write 30 books, the inner strength that, as he says, propelled "a weak, sickly, extremely nearsighted boy to become the President of the United States."
"I really feel I have the potential to change people's lives as Theodore Roosevelt," Dellinger says. "If I can show what he did, the obstacles he overcame, I can motivate people to change."
Theodore Roosevelt changed his life. Dellinger discovered the 26th president after he had embarked on his course of personal growth with Omega. After skydiving and nudism, he took a more substantial risk: He wrote a letter to his father, who had left the family unsupported since Wayne was a year old. (Upon receiving the letter, his father told a family member, "You know, I think Wayne's on drugs.")