MACON — One would never have known driving through Macon on Wednesday morning that the president of the United States would be speaking there later in the day.
But that was the case as President Barack Obama talked about alternative energy during a visit to POET Biorefining, an ethanol plant east of Macon, as part of his White House to Main Street Tour. Although it was just outside the self-proclaimed City of Maples, whose population is about 5,500, most Macon residents were unable to attend the event because it was closed to the public.
Forrest Hall, a member of the Macon County Democrat Club, said he tried to get a pass but couldn't.
“He’s out in the country promoting his program, and I’m glad to see that,” Hall said. “I’ve never seen a president work as hard as he has to get his program out.”
Some people did try to catch a glimpse of Obama’s arrival at POET. Supporters and protesters gathered along U.S. 36 across from the plant.
Some carried signs bearing messages such as “Yes We Can,” and “Farmers for Obama.” Others, however, were less flattering: “Nov. Oust the Bums” and “We Must Impeach Obama.”
In the 2008 presidential election, Macon County voters favored the Republican ticket, casting 4,586 ballots for Sen. John McCain and 2,784 for Obama.
Don Sweeney of St. Joseph drove to Macon to protest. Among other things, Sweeney said he is concerned about the legitimacy of Obama’s U.S. citizenship.
“He’s selling us down the drain,” Sweeney said. “He’s forcing health care, and people don’t want it.”
Larry Taylor, a member of Christians United for Israel, carried a “Support Israel” sign.
“He has disgraced the U.S. in ignoring the nation of Israel,” Taylor said.
Obama supporter Scott Greenwood and his family were out holding signs.
“We’re so excited he’s going to be in our backyard,” said Greenwood, a local farmer whose brother works at the ethanol plant. “We think (health care reform) is a good step in the right direction.”
Melissa Greenwood, Scott's sister-in-law, said her health care premiums went up $100, so she had to increase her deductible. She's unsure how health care reform will affect her.
Greenwood pulled her three children out of Immaculate Conception School for the day to watch for the president. The Greenwoods’ peers at Immaculate Conception learned the importance of the president’s visit in Andy Grant’s third- and fourth-grade classroom.
“It’s an important historical event for Macon,” Grant said. “It doesn’t matter what your political view is; it matters that it is the president of the United States. I wish more people could be there.”
For postal worker Maria Moyer, the biggest change in her day was the closing of the highway by the ethanol plant.
“He’s making our job hard today,” she said with a laugh.
The plant where Obama spoke opened in 2000 and is the first ethanol plant in Missouri.
“I think it’s really neat that the president is down here talking about green energy,” Macon County Assessor Alan Spencer said. “It’s a very, very efficient plant.”
Spencer said Obama isn’t the first president to visit Macon. Ruth Masten of the Macon County Historical Society's museum and genealogy department confirmed that.
“Three other presidents have stopped in Macon briefly,” she said.
President Theodore Roosevelt came through the town by train in 1909, President Herbert Hoover passed through on U.S. 36 in 1929, and President Harry S. Truman greeted people in Macon when he passed through on his way to Independence.
Macon high school student Candace Anderson said that for the past two days she’s heard lots of people talking about the president’s visit.
"I think it’s crazy,” she said. “I never thought I’d live to see a president come to my hometown … If only I could see him."
Missourian reporter Victoria Guida contributed to this report.