WARRENSBURG — Nine American flags waved in the wind along Maguire Street outside the Student Recreation and Wellness Center at the University of Central Missouri. In anticipation of President Barack Obama’s visit to the campus, many people began lining up early Wednesday morning with folding chairs and umbrellas to brave the heat.
“We got here before the flags were put up,” said Dollie and Tim Jackson.
The Jacksons were the first in line at 5 a.m. Wednesday. They came early to secure good seats so their two children, ages 3 and 7, would be close enough to see the president. The next people to show up didn’t arrive until 7:30 a.m.
“It’s once in a lifetime to see a sitting president in my backyard,” said Mike Delaurier, who was second in line.
Delaurier, an alumnus and now a theater professor at the university, came to be a part of the experience. To prepare for the event, Delaurier said the streets were cleaned Friday. American flags and signs displaying “we support our troops” were put up throughout town Wednesday morning.
Nathan and Markita Zimmermann traveled from Kansas City to see Obama.
“We both graduated from here, so we figured it was a historic event being the first time a sitting president has talked here,” Nathan Zimmermann said.
Nathan Zimmermann is a member of the alumni board of directors at UCM and was able to snag tickets through the board without having to stand in line Monday. About 1,400 tickets, which were free, were gone in about 45 minutes, UCM President Charles Ambrose posted Monday on Twitter.
Those who didn't have tickets could watch a livestream of the event from two rooms on campus.
LaQuanna Johnson, a Higginsville resident, came straight from her night shift to wait in line with her two children. Running on little sleep, Johnson said it was important to her for her children to be able to see Obama in person but that it didn’t matter to her what the president was going to speak about.
“I just want to be here,” Johnson said. “He can say the sky is blue today, and I’ll be happy.”
Preparing for the speech
By 11 a.m., at least 100 people had lined up, varying in age from elementary school-age to senior citizens. Most were just excited to have the opportunity to hear the president speak.
“This is one of the bigger things to have in Warrensburg,” 29-year-old Kris Howard said. “To have a sitting president speak here is pretty special.”
Brenda DeMattei, 60, is an active voter and an ardent Obama supporter. She once wrote a letter to the president expressing her views on the single-payer system and eradication of poverty.
“He responded to my letter, agreeing with mostly everything I wrote,” she said. “I approve of everything he does and hope he can do something about the economy. We can’t be having this high disparity between the income levels.”
Christian Cutler, a gallery director at the university, was in line selling stickers that say, “They don’t know how to drive.” The quote is from the 2010 Labor Day speech given by the president on the economy in Milwaukee. The quote references the president's remarks about how Republicans "drove our economy into a ditch."
Cutler, who has been a Obama supporter since he began his presidential campaign in 2008, feels the president is a “uniter.”
“He is the kind of president who is a genuine individual, who understands all income levels,” Cutler said.
Cutler is hoping to hear Obama talk about green initiatives in his speech.
“I think he is starting to focus more on creating green and environmentally positive jobs,” he said. “We should be moving away from using foreign oil or even things like Excel Oil.”
Eighty-year-old Warrensburg resident George Sample hopes the president’s speech will cover the military as well.
“I hope he can maintain a high enough economy to keep people in service,” he said. “Military members should be treated the same way they would treat those working in large businesses.”
Sample was a Morse code operator for the Air Force in the 1950s. He retired in 1956 after serving for four years.
Volunteers in red shirts handed out water and managed the growing line of people. Gretchen Reynolds, representing the student experience and engagements office, said there were between 80 to 90 volunteers for the event. Volunteers also helped people with disabilities and directed VIP ticket holders to proper areas.
Gaetano Acevedo, a senior airman on Whiteman Air Force Base, was one of the volunteers at the event. He said volunteers consisted mostly of university students but a few Air Force members were there as well.
The White House distributed VIP tickets to city officials and other personnel who attended a lunch in Hendricks Hall at 11 a.m.
After the speech, the university is holding a buffet, expecting to feed about 2,000 people. The buffet is open to the public, even those who did not have tickets to the speech.