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Missouri: Role play puts people in the president’s chair

Courtesy Truman Library and Museum

How would you like to be president for a day? Or maybe a couple of hours? That’s a popular team-building activity at the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo.

In the lower level of the museum, away from the traditional tours, a replica of the West Wing was built, and that’s where the White House Decision Center team-building exercises are held.

“There are eight advisory rooms, which are small breakout rooms, and one large press room,” said Tom Heuertz, the education specialist who runs the program. “Groups who come in face an actual crisis that was faced by President Truman, and everyone has a role to play.”

All kinds of groups take part. There have been groups from hospitals, chambers of commerce, lawyers — even the CIA makes a trip out every year from Washington with seven agents. Up to 64 adults can be accommodated, and each pays $25.

“We have the actual documents from the crisis — like the Berlin airlift of 1948 — and we pass them out,” said Heuertz. “They are all labeled ‘Top Secret,’ because these are actual documents, and each person takes on a role. If we have a large group, there might be four each of the president, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense and so on.”

Heuertz, a retired history teacher, has four other retired teachers to help him facilitate groups.
After the documents have been read and the information digested, the large groups split into teams, with one of each role on each team. Then they discuss solutions and action plans.

“Very few people get a chance to do this kind of high-level thinking and strategy in a museum setting,” said Heuertz. “And you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy it. We give you all the information you need. We’ll bring you up to speed. This is both fun and challenging.”

A press conference is also held, with team members playing the role of reporters, asking the president questions.

“Sometimes they ask a silly question, like whether Bess still enjoys playing cards, but then they get right back into it,” Heuertz said. “The response we’ve gotten is this is the best team-building they’ve ever done.”

Generally, groups come in the morning to do their team-building exercises, then break for lunch (the museum works out catering), then tour the rest of the museum and library.

There are seven areas conducive to groups, including a 1,200-seat auditorium. A courtyard portico is available for larger outdoor functions and can accommodate 1,500.

Permanent museum attractions include audio and visual programs and artifacts to engage visitors in the issues surrounding the Truman presidency, as well as a replica of the Oval Office.

One new attraction that opens this spring in Independence is the Midwest Genealogy Center, which will have extensive microfilm and microfiche sources, including U.S. Census records, Civil War histories, Native American records and a variety of state tax records for Missouri and other states.

The center will have computers and printers, lockers, limited food service and a break area. Classes will be offered on a variety of topics, and all are free.

(800) 833-1225

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