PRIOR LAKE, Minn. — Glynn Crooks is the commander-in-chief of his Prior Lake house.
He does paperwork inside an oval-shaped room, seated at a desk inspired by the woodwork of a British Navy ship. And he can gaze at the same Rembrandt Peale portrait of George Washington, hung above the fireplace, just as many U. S. presidents have done before him.
Crooks, a passionate collector of U.S. presidential memorabilia, has built a replica of the White House Oval Office, complete with the classic four curved doors.
“I don’t have to get permission to sit here,” he said with a smile. “And I don’t have to give it up in four years.”
Crooks is a retired tribal leader and member of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which owns and operates Mystic Lake Casino. He was the vice chairman of the tribe for 16 years and retired in 2012.
As a tribal leader and representative of the Shakopee tribe, Crooks is invited to the White House for special events, often donning Sioux Indian traditional regalia at many official ceremonies.
“I presented a peace pipe to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller,” said Crooks, pointing to a photo on the wall of that exchange in 1976 to commemorate the American Bicentennial.
On that trip, Crooks bought a plate decorated with President Gerald Ford’s face. That was the start of a vast presidential memorabilia collection spanning the walls and displayed in rows of glass cases inside Crooks’ museum-style home.
Each grouping reflects his presidential encounters at White House events, along with photos, documents and artifacts that span the past four decades. A large Presidential Seal decorating a wall catches the eye around every corner.
“The presidency has fascinated me since I was a little kid,” Crooks said. “He is the most powerful person in the world.”
Crooks has met Ford, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton. He’s attended several inaugurations, including those of Bush, Obama and, most recently, Donald Trump. He paid his respects at the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Ford.
“Glynn has friends in lofty places,” said longtime friend Bernie Mahowald. “He was a great representative of his tribe.”
While at the White House to attend Obama’s first Governors’ Ball, “someone came up from behind me and patted me on the back,” said Crooks. “It was the president. He looked so fit and trim.”
Crooks is bipartisan in his presidential passion. He honors Ronald Reagan, his favorite Republican, with his own room. The walls are covered with posters from “Hellcats of the Navy” and other Reagan movies as well as a massive eye-catching photo of Ronald and Nancy Reagan dressed to the nines attending a White House event.
Another section is devoted to Kennedy, Crooks’ favorite Democrat, with photos of the glamorous president and first lady on the beach and even Barbie-size dolls of Jack and Jackie in formal attire.
Crooks, a Navy Vietnam veteran, pays patriotic tribute to all the military branches, including a life-size mannequin dressed in an Army uniform and ready for action. Crooks organizes, arranges and decorates each space himself. “I dust every one of the cases,” he said.
The real Oval Office is in the West Wing, and it’s where the president works, and meets with staff and heads of state.
In 1909, William Howard Taft expanded the office space in the center of the West Wing, modeling it after the White House’s original oval-shaped Blue Room. Today the West Wing is not open to public tours — visiting it requires a special invitation from the White House.
In 2003, Crooks decided to bring the spirit of the Oval Office from Washington, D.C., to his own home on the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux reservation in Prior Lake. So he tapped his friend Mahowald, of Mahowald Builders in Savage, to help fulfill his vision.
“I laughed when he told me he wanted to build a replica of the Oval Office,” said Mahowald. “He said he was going to bring a tape measure and take photos the next time he went there.”
But Crooks didn’t have to. He found the room’s measurements online. The reproduction Oval Office is part of a 2,000-square-foot, two-story addition on the Crooks home. The main floor is what Crooks refers to as the “West Wing,” with two hallways packed with presidential memorabilia guiding you to the main event — the commander-in-chief’s light-filled work space.
To get it right, Crooks did extensive research, using historical books with photos and other resources. Each president can change the decor of the Oval Office, from the draperies to the oval-shaped area rug. Crooks has re-created the design sensibility from primarily the Ford and Reagan administrations.
He’s hung reproductions of historic Oval Office paintings, such as the Abraham Lincoln portrait by George Henry Story. Then Crooks mingles his own pieces, including American bald eagle sculptures, which “stand for strength and wisdom,” he said.
The custom-made desk is a replica of the famed Resolute, which was crafted from timbers of the H.M.S. Resolute — a British Navy ship. “It even has the door that little John-John played with,” said Crooks, referencing the iconic photo taken during the Kennedy administration.
Next to the desk, the president’s flag and the U.S. flag bring a patriotic spirit to the space. “Nixon had military flags — so I did that, too,” said Crooks.
Crooks is proud of his participation at many White House official events, his memorabilia collection and his authentic facsimile of the Oval Office.
“When I sit at this desk,” he said, “sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be president.”