Dean Hall/lakeland times

President Theodore Roosevelt impersonator Joe Wiegand engages the crowd with an exuberant and rousing rendition of “God Bless America” at The Boathouse in Minocqua on Saturday, Nov. 3.
Dean Hall/lakeland times

President Theodore Roosevelt impersonator Joe Wiegand engages the crowd with an exuberant and rousing rendition of “God Bless America” at The Boathouse in Minocqua on Saturday, Nov. 3.
On the evening of Saturday, Nov. 3, if you found yourself meandering the downtown streets of Minocqua, you may have heard history wafting through the cool night air. What you were listening to was the whimsical, exuberant and sometimes sad rendition of former President Theodore Roosevelt’s memoirs as told through the mind’s eye of the world’s premiere Roosevelt impersonator, Joe Wiegand. 

Wiegand was the center of a special event held at The Boathouse by The Minocqua Public Library Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. His presentation brought in a full house of residents both young and old to dine on wild game and partake in presidential drink specials such as Cuba Libre and of course, a southerner’s favorite, mint juleps. 

Famous for becoming the youngest man to assume the U.S. presidency in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt spearheaded the “Square Deal,” a domestic program that embraced reform of the American workplace, and was also known for his infamous, “speak softly and carry a big stick” policy, which bulked up the U.S. Navy and created the “Great White Fleet.” He was also the organizer of the first voluntary cavalry in the Spanish-American War dubbed, The Rough Riders. 

Roosevelt published more than 25 books on history, geography, philosophy and biology as well as a biography and autobiography. He was the president who officially named The White House and was known for his exuberant pounding of fists and strong rhetoric. 

But most importantly, Roosevelt was responsible for the creation of 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves and five national parks. For those who go into the wilderness to pursue big game, it is interesting to note that he was also the founder of Boone and Crockett.



Wiegand as Roosevelt

Wiegand’s rendition of this iconic figure in American history was perfection on Nov. 3. He looked remarkably like Roosevelt and duplicated his mannerisms and speech verbatim. 

Although his likeness to the 26th president is uncanny, it’s his passion for what Roosevelt embodied that inspired Wiegand to impersonate this iconic leader for the last 14 years.

“I am the son of hippie comedian, Jimmy Wiggins, so I learned my stagecraft by watching my father,” Wiegand explained. “But being raised by hippies, first in Chicago and then in Hollywood, California, the only way to be a rebellious teenager in the 1970s was to volunteer for Ronald Reagan, and join the NRA and the Christian Coalition.” 

This opposition from his father’s political views gave birth to an act they called, “Like Father Like Son — Not Necessarily,” which made light of the head-butting often common amongst teens and their parents. 

Wiegand began what would be a 25-year career in political consulting, during which he ran a gubernatorial campaign, a presidential campaign, and was a county commissioner in DeKalb County, Illinois. During his career, attending political dinners was commonplace. 

Wiegand began to notice that, “whether it be a Lincoln day or a Jefferson/Jackson dinner, they all come from the same script: you write a check, you get a bad piece of chicken, and then you hear a speech by a member of Congress that makes that chicken look pretty good by comparison. As the son of an entertainer, I thought, ‘We’re missing the boat here, why not have some fun with all this red, white and blue bunting,’ so I started doing a character called Father Josepe Republicana.”

It was then he received a book as a gift called “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.” 

“Books change people’s lives, and that book changed mine,” Wiegand said. “It was about the time of the September 11 attacks, and I wanted to be of service in some way. I realized that although I had spent years in public service, maybe now my public service would come in a different form.” 

At that point, Wiegand’s characterization of Teddy Roosevelt was born, and he continues this history-based act all over the country, performing for television shows, films and presidential events. He often pays a visit to local schools free of charge in the towns where he is scheduled to perform. 

The Minocqua Public Library’s venue brought him to MHLT, where he conducted a presentation for the students. 

“The level of scholarship in the children were wonderful,” he said. “They are bright and wonderful kids.”

Wiegand says with the younger kids, his presentations are light and fun but likes to take a different approach with high school aged students. 

“With the older kids, I tell the story of Roosevelt overcoming hardship and tragedy such as the asthma he struggled with as a boy, death of his father while he was in Harvard and the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day from different diseases,” he said. “Life kicks you in the teeth, you get knocked down, and Theodore Roosevelt is one of those inspirational characters who, despite hardship, his grit and determination got him through it. He is still an inspiration for young and old.”

Minocqua Public Library Foundation president Jake Bonack said this fundraising event was a year in the making and turn-out was phenomenal. 

“Some of the things we’ve done in the past with money raised were creating the beautiful quilt above the reading room and the library gardens,” Bonack said. “We are refocusing on more specific fundraising purposes.” 

Monies raised will go towards items such as the library’s programs, collections, facilities and technology. The 2019 focus is support for special programming initiatives centered on children’s literacy and life-long learning. These initiatives include outreach to local child care centers, preschools and 4k classes, enhanced teen services and a variety of Saturday programs at the library.

Mary Taylor, director of the Minocqua Public Library, said 

the feedback from the attendees was very positive. 

“Folks really appreciated Joe’s program, many told me it was both educational and entertaining,” Taylor said. “They loved the history, and Joe did an excellent job. They also enjoyed the dinner and the chance to socialize in a beautiful setting.” 

According to Taylor, the venue was very successful, as all 100 tickets available were sold.

Watching living history unfold in the cozy ambiance of The Boathouse was indeed a treat. The Minocqua Public Library Foundation folks put on an event that was entertaining, engaging and culturally refreshing for the Lakeland area. Leaving the venue, one could still hear the inspirational words of Teddy Roosevelt emanating from the restaurant while walking the quiet street, and for a moment, feel very much as if had set foot in the dawn of the 20th century. It was indeed history brought to life.

Kimberly Drake can be reached at kimberlydrake21@gmail.com.