Theodore Roosevelt returns to the Adirondacks Sept. 19
SARANAC LAKE — Theodore Roosevelt is coming to town, thanks to four Saranac Lake residents who have worked hard to bring a nationally known impersonator of the American president to one of his favorite places in the country, the Adirondacks.
Joe and Sally Spadaro, with friends Bob and Pat Brown pulled people and organizations from around Saranac Lake together to invite Theodore Roosevelt impersonator Joe Wiegand to perform as the famed president at local high schools and at a free show in Saranac Lake.
Weigand is a full-time Roosevelt impersonator with hundreds of shows across the country every year. He has performed for former president George W. Bush and is an annual fixture at Newcomb’s Teddy Roosevelt Weekend.
Roosevelt, an influential supporter of wildlife conservation and national parks, frequented the North Country in his early years, hiking, hunting and even publishing his first work, “The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, N.Y.” in the Adirondack wilderness.
Both couples had seen Weigand perform at different venues and were inspired by his revival of Roosevelt’s unique and memorable persona, philosophy and sayings.
“He really is Teddy Roosevelt,” Joe Spadaro said.
Wiegand’s performance is not scripted; he has studied the former president extensively and channels Roosevelt’s character on stage and off. Topics range based on location, audience and current events, using Roosevelt’s quotes and beliefs to view today’s government and society through his respected perspective.
A former politician and the son of a comedian, Weigand merges the two careers into one with a comically educational performance as a man with a larger-than-life personality and strong moral-based political values.
While Weigand tours as Roosevelt through Saranac Lake’s schools, he hopes Roosevelt’s strong character will leave an impression on students as an example for them to aspire to and learn from.
Born sickly and suffering from severe asthma, Roosevelt pushed through his childhood to become healthy and strong.
“To think that somebody had a childhood like that, where they were just desperate to be able to take a full breath,” Sally Spadaro said. “He overcame so many obstacles. Truly, he’s just a remarkable individual.”
He faced tragedy throughout his early life, losing his mother and wife to illnesses on Valentine’s Day, facing sicknesses himself and struggling in his career.
“What if he’d quit? What if he’d allowed himself to define himself as a weak and sickly invalid?” Wiegand asked. “The core of the message is the need to be in the arena to perform well the duties of citizenship and also to respond to defeat and tragedy with the sort of resolve that Theodore Roosevelt did.”
The Saranac Lake organizers said the spirit of Roosevelt’s work “in the arena” inspired them to invite Wiegand to the Adirondacks. His idea was for citizens to work on improving their community as much as politicians, which is why organizers decided to take the job on themselves to host the presidential impersonator. Roosevelt was involved in conservation as a citizen and played a major role in the creation of national parks and wildlife refuges as a politician.
“It wasn’t that he was a former president of the United States,” Bob Brown said. “It was that he recognized the Adirondacks in the beginning.”
After vacationing in the Adirondacks as a child and hiking to build his strength, Roosevelt spent the majority of his freshman and sophomore years paddling around the Raquette and Tupper Lakes, bird-watching and climbing the High Peaks.
“To do this in the Adirondacks, Saranac Lake … that’s Teddy territory,” Wiegand said. “They know and they live the conservation legacy of Theodore Roosevelt in the Adirondacks.”
At the same time as he was an avid outdoorsman, Roosevelt kept himself busy in politics, serving as head of the police board in New York City, assistant secretary to the U.S. Navy, governor of New York and vice president of the U.S., before entering the presidency himself.
“Teddy Roosevelt made himself many things. He diversified himself,” Bob Brown said. “When you are living in a community like ours you have to be resourceful because we area a small community. You have to work together and use everybody that you have around you.”
That is just what the Spadaros and the Browns did when they set out to bring Roosevelt to Saranac Lake. Receiving funds from members of the Masonic Lodge in Oyster Bay, Long Island which Roosevelt had been a part of, the Saranac Lake school system and the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club, they found help from people across the local and state community.
“What’s really fascinating is, you start this thing and you don’t know if it’s going to fly or not. You’re kind of reluctant to really step into the water, and you turn around and look and there’s all kinds of people wanting to help you,” Joe Spadaro said. “We haven’t been refused by anybody, it’s remarkable.”
Wiegand can be seen “preaching from the bully pulpit” at Newcomb’s annual Teddy Roosevelt Weekend on Sept. 16 and 17, St. Regis Falls on Sept. 18 and at the Harrietstown Town Hall on Sept. 19.
He will visit the Saranac Lake High School and Bloomingdale Elementary School during his trip to bring the humorous and insightful President Roosevelt to young audiences.
If you go…
Who: Theodore Roosevelt, as portrayed by Joe Wiegand
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19
Where: Harrietstown Town Hall, 39 Main St., Saranac Lake
How much: Free