Construction on the planned Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora, North Dakota, could begin by late 2022, and the library’s foundation has filled key positions, including a person from Grand Forks.

Laura Block has been hired as the chief operating officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation, according to the foundation’s chief executive officer, Edward O’Keefe.

Block recently served as associate dean of administration and finance at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Before that, she was the CFO of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation for more than 10 years. During that time, Block worked with the UND Spirit Campaign, which raised more than $324 million for the university.

“It's exciting,” Block said Tuesday, Sept. 14. “The vision of both the board and (Edward O’Keefe) portray what it'll do for North Dakota. If you thought what a benefit, what an asset it would be, clearing the doors already, (it’s) a magnet for tourism. Adding this to the repertoire out there will really put, I believe, North Dakota on the map.”

O’Keefe, also a Grand Forks native, said that much like the library project itself, Block’s filling of the CFO position is “providential.”

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“She's a strategic thinker and leader,” O'Keefe said. “She brings a tremendous track record of financial oversight, discipline, innovation, and this is just an incredible opportunity for us to bring someone on board who can help us move forward.”

Linda Pancratz, chair of the Library’s foundation, said she worked with Block while at the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, and that Block’s contributions to the presidential library will be crucial.

“She is a highly respected, consummate professional who has given back to North Dakota in so many ways and will do so again in this critical role,” Pancratz said. “Laura was essential to the success of UND, and she will be vital to the success of the (Theodore Roosevelt) Library too.”

From 2001 to 2006, Block was vice president and investment and trust manager at Bremer Bank. She also worked as a senior manager at Brady Martz and Associates in Grand Forks. She received her degree in accounting and an MBA from UND. She is a past president of the Alerus Commission and treasurer of the Empire Arts Center. She serves as the finance and investment chair on the Altru Health System Board.

In May 2021, Block was given a notice of nonrenewal by Joshua Wynne, dean of UND SMHS. The notice indicated Block was dismissed without cause, and that the dismissal did not reflect on Block's contributions to the school.

According to O’Keefe, the foundation is now negotiating a land sale for a 93-acre parcel adjacent to the amphitheater in Medora, where the Medora Musical is located. The presidential library will essentially be a window to the national park, a namesake of the nation’s 26th president.

Ed O'Keefe, a native of Grand Forks, is the CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Ed O'Keefe, a native of Grand Forks, is the CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

In October 2020, the foundation announced it had exceeded $100 million in donations, which in turn unlocked a $50 million endowment authorized by the 2019 North Dakota Legislature. The state endowment, O’Keefe said, is being invested by the state, and only the proceeds of that investment will go toward the library. He said the funding model sets a precedent for similar projects in the future.

“Not one single dime of taxpayer money has been spent on the (Theodore Roosevelt) Library,” O’Keefe said. “The state keeps the money, we didn't get a check for $50 million.”

Construction of the library could begin in late 2022 or early 2023. The foundation is preparing for a soft opening in 2025, with the goal of being fully operational by July 4, 2026, the 250th anniversary of the founding of the nation.

O’Keefe graduated from Red River High School in 1996, and after college worked as a journalist for ABC News for more than a decade. He became the executive producer for ABC News digital, then later joined CNN as the vice president of CNN Money and CNN Politics, before becoming senior vice president of content development there. While at CNN, O’Keefe had the opportunity to work with the network’s personalities, including celebrity chef, author and travel host Anthony Bourdain.

The library foundation has also announced the hiring of people to fill other key roles.

During the foundation’s summer board meeting held in early August, members elected Spencer Zwick as a foundation trustee. Zwick is co-founder and managing partner at Solamere Capital, a $2 billion multi-strategy investment firm. Zwick served as national finance chair and senior advisor for the 2008 and 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaigns. He will join the development and finance committees of the foundation.

The Board also announced the hiring of the foundation’s vice president of development. Jeffrey S. Rothenberg joined the T.R. Library team on Aug. 30 to lead its fundraising operations. Rothenberg was the vice president of development for the Sigma Chi Foundation, a national organization based out of Evanston, Illinois. There, he managed the team responsible or a multi-year $172 million capital campaign.