A Busy Weekend Of Preparation For A President’s Visit
By Kevin Gray
As the Osawatomie City Auditorium continued a busy pace Saturday morning at the Rotary Club’s Pancake Feed to raise scholarship money for Osawatomie youth, one question came up every few minutes: “Have you heard the President’s coming to town?”
By Friday evening, the city of Osawatomie had the news posted on the city Web site and on Facebook. The Lawrence Journal-World ran with the story, as did the Topeka Capitol-Journal.
The news was out and former State Senator Doug Walker, a Democrat from Osawatomie, had already been interviewed by the Ottawa Herald, and Mayor Phil Dudley had gone public with the news on Facebook.
Walker said he was glad he knew the story about President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 “New Nationalism” speech. “This gave me something to talk about, even though we really don’t know why the President is coming to Osawatomie,” Walker said.
At the pancake feed tables, the name Obama was used in a positive manner or less than positive. “This could be good for the city. I hope it brings good publicity and that it brings some good things,” Jamie Wilson said.
Needless to say, most voices stuck to the norm – Saturday projects, college games, the weather – but, then, somebody would ask, “How do you get tickets?”
Others said, “He’s landing at the airport, having lunch and then motorcading into town on the old highway.”
“No, he’s going to the cabin,” someone else suggested, followed by, “But, I thought they were going to host this here in the city auditorium. The walls are nicely painted.”
The most often asked question at the Rotary fundraiser or around town or at the high school Friday, when black-suited, trench coat wearing men with brief cases or clip boards, combed the hallways and roof tops, had been, “Why’s he comin’ here?”
Just why President Barack Obama chose to fly into Osawatomie, Kan., was a mystery. The Kansas City Star’s front page story about the visit stated, “Obama’s pending visit a mystery.”
But it was Grady Atwater, Site Administrator at the John Brown Museum State Historic Site, who said he hoped it had to do with John Brown and the cabin.
“At least this makes a good reason to come here. We get visitors from around the world and phone calls from other countries.
“Why not the President of the United States?” Atwater said.
The President’s visit to Osawatomie, Atwater said, gives us a real sense of history at this moment. “Just think about it. President Obama is the first African-American president. He is coming to a town founded by abolitionists dedicated to equality for both African-Americans and whites,” Atwater said.
This visit signals history, Atwater said, a history in the making. “We have a full history, now, a history that has come full circle. What would be better than to have President Obama visit the cabin, where well-known abolitionists once lived?” Atwater said.
Even though Atwater had no more of an idea about the President’s visit than anyone else, he felt the President’s visit was still a time where the past and present have been linked.
“This is about our past and with the fruits of our efforts, we now have an African-American President possibly near where history took place. I just hope he makes it to the cabin,” Atwater said.
Atwater said the secret service had been to the cabin several times. “A helicopter circled the park two or three times,” he said.
Atwater still had no idea on Saturday if the President would visit the cabin. “I know if he does, I’ll do what they say. When the secret service is there with the President, you do what they say, even if I have to stand on my head,” Atwater said.
A visit like this, said Marilyn Rayfield, will be good for everybody. “It really will be good for high schoolers, any kid and most people whether they are pro or con with the President”.
Rayfield found the ongoing questions, “Have you heard Obama’s coming?” humorous. “Yes,” she tells them, “I heard about it three days ago,” while thinking to herself, “Where’ve you been?”
From the Chamber of Commerce perspective, its director Shelagh Wright, the President’s visit will be great for the city.
“To have two Presidents, just a century apart, I think is great for the community, but I hope the kids can see him. This will be a memory of a lifetime,” Wright said.
Even though Larry White did not know if he would attend the speech at Osawatomie High School, he said this is still a very important event to him.
“I am a life-long Democrat. I hope Obama will talk about jobs and how to bring back jobs. That and health care and what we are going to do about Afghanistan,” White said.
Keeping his enthusiasm for the President’s arrival in check, Ron Hohenstein said, this is the first seated President to ever publicly visit Osawatomie.
“It’s also the best thing to have happened to Osawatomie since Aug. 31, 1910, when Roosevelt came to town. And, regardless of your politics you should go if you can,” Hohenstein said.
Hohenstein’s wife Barbara said she would like to see the President stop at Osawatomie Life Care Center.
“There are several people over 100 who would like to meet a President. But this is still about the most excited I’ve ever seen this town since I moved here,” she said.
Barbara said one of their daughters live in Paola the other one lives in Manhattan. They plan to take their kids out of school and spend the day in Osawatomie.
“They just want to be in town, when the President is here. Maybe they can catch a glimpse of the motorcade. Or see his helicopter,” Barb said.
But, Ron had another story to tell. His father, Ron said with a smile, liked to reminisce about the times President Harry Truman would sneak into town.
“My dad was a Mason. So was Truman! And different Masonic lodges liked to visit one another. Dad said Truman came quietly into Osawatomie two or three, maybe four times, but nobody ever knew about it because he could just slip in and out,” Ron said.
During one of those Truman surprise visits, Ron said his father got an autograph. “I still have that autographed Masonic Lodge membership card,” Hohenstein said.
Seemingly relaxed after his pancakes was Wayne Harclerode, manager of the Miami County Airport, who sat talking over coffee.
“It’s been interesting,” Harclerode said, as if the recent days’ events at the airport were normal.
When he began getting phone calls a few days earlier, he said, things began to change.
“I started hearing from the Secret Service, and they showed up. There were Marines and helicopters all week. All of this advance preparations. It surprised everybody,” Harclerode said.
Harclerode said none of this had affected his daily routine. “But you should see my phone records. Calls from people I don’t normally get calls from. Calls from the Marine base at Quantico, Va. The Secret Service from different locations,” he said.
A few times, Harclerode said, he would take care of a request from the Secret Service or the Marines and then drive home. “As soon as I would get home, someone else would call, and I would drive back out there,” he said.
Air Force One, Harclerode said, would certainly land at Kansas City International. “From there, the President would fly down here by helicopter. When the helicopters were here practicing, there were a lot of Marines on them,” he said.
A smile and a laugh came from Harclerode, when talking about people who thought Air Force One would land at the Miami County Airport.
“No, it’s not long enough or wide enough. And Air Force One’s a 747, a jumbo jet,” Harclerode said.
Harclerode said he told the Secret Service and Marines to make themselves at home.
“They were doing what they wanted anyway. But, I told them I do like to be informed about what they are doing,” he said.
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