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Other people find spirituality. Some turn to religion. For Wayne Dellinger, Theodore Roosevelt "just seemed to be there at the right time."
He thinks of Theodore Roosevelt when things get rough, when he wonders where he's going and if the choices he's made have been the right ones. "When I'm down, I have to think about what I say in giving these speeches," he says, reflecting on Theodore Roosevelt's words. "The speeches are as much a help to me as they are to others."
"There are aspects of him I'd like to be like," Dellinger says of his model, "but I'm not. He always took things head-on. He challenged himself--he only had one eye, but he went on safari. He was willing to risk his life."
Of himself he says, "Many times I avoid confrontations, or doing things that are difficult." During Dellinger's performing career, this inspirational message has fallen on more than a couple of deaf ears. He has had performances that have frankly bombed. Out in Globe once, at a county fair, he was cruelly scheduled just after a local rock n' roll band and just before fiddler Doug Kershaw. A guy was stapling a cover to the wagon he was standing on. Behind him, Kershaw's band was testing the microphones.
"It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me," Dellinger says. But he persevered.
Perhaps oddly, the audience that seems to pick up on the deep seriousness of his message is in the schools. Dellinger frequently visits classrooms, and the consequent interruption of boring math classes and the enforced encouragement of well-meaning teachers inspire grateful letters from children. They write, because they have been told to, about what they have learned from Dellinger's talk on Theodore Roosevelt. But through the apathy shine some rays of light, in statements like, "I would use courage to get me through rough times" and "I should become independent like him" and "If anyone in my family dies, I'll go on."
The kids get the point. They understand that Theodore Roosevelt was a man worth imitating. It is perhaps fitting that the storefront Dellinger selected for his theatre last winter turned out to have been most recently a church. Wayne Dellinger had once started his own church--the New Life Fellowship. He is not afraid of grappling with the larger mysteries of life, or embarrassed to be seen doing it. Of his performing career he says, "It's a good feeling to have a purpose in life."
wayne dellinger's winter season in Mesa was good enough to encourage him to take his show on the road. This summer he'll be performing in the small town of Keystone near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, where Theodore Roosevelt's is one of four faces carved into the mountain.
Two million people go through Keystone every summer, Dellinger says, and he's hoping some of them will stop to see his twice-daily shows at the Miner's Music Hall, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., sandwiched between the resident troupe's family-style country music revues. They're the kind, Dellinger says, that always have a 3-year-old in them.
He had occasion to do a little market testing while he was up in South Dakota this spring. He was dressed in one of his Teddy Roosevelt outfits to chat with Park Service officials at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial where he would like to circulate in costume and pass out information on his theatre. (The Park Service told him he couldn't advertise overtly, but strolling about in costume and encouraging questions was all right.)
On the way out, Dellinger overheard a couple talking about the faces on the mountain. "You know, Teddy Roosevelt was an afterthought," the woman told her husband, not knowing who was behind her.
"I was never an afterthought," Dellinger said indignantly, jumping at the chance to spread the word. "Gutzon Borglum wanted me all along."
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