Clinton visit won't soon be forgotten

April 23, 1995|By Sandra Ormsbee and Tanya Jones

The crowd that came to hear President Clinton's Earth Day speech at the Concord Point Lighthouse in Havre de Grace Friday agreed on one thing: This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"You really don't get the chance to get this close to the president very often," said a shivering Amanda Rushing, 18, of Aberdeen. Ms. Rushing brought her brothers, Andrew, 10, and Ryan, 8, and her 2-month-old son. She was unsuccessful, though, in her attempt to get her baby photographed with Mr. Clinton.

"We're patriotic Havre de Gracians; we had to come," said

William Barker, 47, who arrived at the waterfront at 8:30 a.m. with his wife.

Kristin Owens, 29, of Havre de Grace, agreed. "Of all the places in the United States he could have gone, he chose Havre de Grace. That's exciting," she said. "Rain or shine, we'd be here."

"It's rare that something this big happens in a town like Havre de Grace," said Susan Sunderland, 27, a nursing aide at Perry Point Veterans Hospital who came to the event with her 3-year-old son, Michael, and her two sisters.

Her sister Ruth Mitchell, 31, a homemaker in Havre de Grace, had taken so many pictures of Secret Service agents by midmorning that she only had one frame left for the president.

Aimee Karas, 11, a fifth-grader at Meadowvale Elementary School, had a front-row spot, along with 14 other members of the school's wildlife habitat group. She said the president came "because we're the decoy capital of the world, and not many very important people come to Havre de Grace."

"We're lucky to be able to see the president really close up," said Kathleen Wheeler, a teacher at Meadowvale Elementary School. "I think it's great that the children are getting to shake his hand and listen to his remarks."

Crystal Bowman, 15, an eighth- grader at Havre de Grace Middle School, was in the right place at the right time when the president stepped down from the podium and moved toward the crowd.

"I just shook the president's hand," she said, grinning and holding her face. "It was shocking. I was speechless afterward."

With seagulls circling overhead and explosions from Aberdeen Proving Ground providing a backdrop, President Clinton vowed to make environmental issues a priority.

"I thought his speech was very impressive," said Arlene Endres, 42, of Bel Air. "I was pleased with his dedication to the environment. As a parent, it's a personal concern, and I think he's shown real dedication to it."

Amid the occasional showers, many wore rain gear or shielded themselves with plastic bags. Some had skipped school or work to see Mr. Clinton.

Like other raincoat-clad residents, Aberdeen mother Francis Kately, 39, got to the promenade by 8:30 a.m. to claim her spot in front of the podium.

"We planned it," she said. "We packed drinks, snacks and binoculars, and we got here early. We were hoping for good weather, though."

Linda Burkins, 40, a Darlington factory worker, said she missed a day on the job because "I wanted to see him with my own eyes instead of on TV."

Sixth-graders at Havre de Grace Middle School received a special invitation to attend the address from a White House representative who called the school the day before the event.

As soon as Evelyn Ishmeal, a language arts teacher at the school, found out about Mr. Clinton's visit, she faxed a letter to him inviting him to visit the school to talk to students personally and accept a student-made decoy.

When she hadn't received a response by noon Thursday, Ms. Ishmeal lost hope. An hour later, over the public address system, she heard, "Ms. Ishmeal, that special phone call you've been waiting for is on the line."

"The only reason I knew it was real was that they called me out of class," said Ms. Ishmeal, 48, of Bel Air. She was told that President Clinton was unable to fulfill her request for security reasons, but that he had invited them to attend the speech instead.

"We hadn't planned to come until the phone call," Ms. Ishmeal said.

In less than two hours, 120 students had permission slips and information forms in hand. At 10 that night, Ms. Ishmeal was still calling parents to get chaperons for the trip.

"This is an absolute first," Ms. Ishmeal said. "Every student returned their permission form."

Richard Hauf, director of the Havre de Grace High School Symphonic Band, said that playing for the president was a great opportunity for the 61 band members.

"It's definitely a day the students won't forget," he said. "You can't get a better audience than the president."

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