Teddy Roosevelt rides again, thanks to Solana Beach resident’s portrayal
His name is Joe Wiegand, but most people know the Solana Beach resident as Theodore Roosevelt. He has portrayed the 26th president for the past decade.
“I look forward to bringing Theodore Roosevelt to life for folks all across the country,” said Wiegand, who has lived in Solana Beach for about a year.
With a busy schedule, Wiegand brings his character to audiences across the country, including recent local stops at Grossmont High School in El Cajon, San Pasqual High School in Escondido and the Encinitas Rotary Club, where Wiegand is a member.
Wiegand kicked off June with performances during the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation receptions in Bismarck and Minneapolis. Formed in 1986, the nonprofit sponsors Wiegand’s National TR Tour, which allows him to add performances for schools, seniors and the United States military and their families for free or at reduced rates.
“Each and every week, each and every month there’s some wonderful experience that just gives me a great deal of pause and thankfulness for this opportunity to be an actor and a historian and bring Theodore Roosevelt to life,” Wiegand said.
Originally from Chicago, Wiegand’s family eventually moved to Hollywood, where his father, Jim Wiggins, flourished as a comedian.
Wiegand earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., later serving as a graduate assistant at the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University.
He built a career in Republican politics, serving in various capacities, including as campaign manager for Jim Oberweis’ gubernatorial race in 2005 and for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign in Illinois in 2008.
“I love what I did in politics and public service, practicing what I preach,” Wiegand said.
After a 25-year career in public policy and political campaigns, however, Wiegand switched gears and began performing as Roosevelt in 2004.
Although he recalled reading about Roosevelt as a child, Wiegand became fascinated with the former president when his sister-in-law gave him Edmund Morris’ “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” for Christmas in 2001.
“It’s a wonderful book that tells the story of young TR battling his own Republican Party leadership and overcoming tragedy,” Wiegand said. “That story of Theodore Roosevelt really was a life-changer for me.”
As the son of a comedian, Wiegand is a natural performer who has always enjoyed performing, even though he worked in a much different field for most of his life.
“The apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” Wiegand said. “I always tried to make my meetings and the Republican fundraisers entertaining.”
After reading Roosevelt’s story, Wiegand started impersonating the president, initially at political functions. By 2005, he began booking gigs around the state of Illinois.
In 2008, following the presidential primary, Wiegand and his family traveled across America in celebration of Roosevelt’s 150th birthday.
Wiegand portrayed Roosevelt in all 50 states. A highlight, he said, was being invited to the White House as part of the official celebration of the anniversary of Roosevelt’s birth.
“I really haven’t looked back since,” Wiegand said.
Wiegand has been featured as Roosevelt in “The Men Who Built America” television series on the History Channel. He has a featured role in “Wild America,” a film about national parks, due in IMAX theaters at the start of 2016.
Until then, Wiegand remains busy with his summer tour, which includes daily matinee shows in Medora, N.D., the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
“It’s just been a delight and a pleasure to have this as a second career, and one that’s opened up all sorts of wonderful experiences for me and for my audiences across the country,” Wiegand said.
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