Can it really be 20 years since President George W. Bush paid a much-hyped visit to Eden Prairie High School?
On my kitchen table, though, there is indisputable proof of that in the form of a small poster commemorating the city’s first presidential visit. The year “2002” is in bright red letters above the headline: “WHAT A DAY! President George W. Bush visits Eden Prairie.”
A few inches down, the president’s gaze off to the side in one of the photos reveals the exact date in the neighboring paragraph: March 4, 2002. Sigh. Twenty years almost to the day.
I forgot about the poster’s existence until seeing a recent Facebook post marking the 20th anniversary in a group called Eden Prairie Remembers. The group aims “to remember the people and events, yesterday and today, that have shaped the history of Eden Prairie.”
That led me on a fierce half-hour search in my basement for the poster. It was there. I knew it. But where?
I’m a bit of a packrat. I have file cabinets, drawers and boxes filled with ephemera dating back to my childhood. Many old magazines, souvenirs, brochures and newspapers fill a tandem children-sized bookcase and desk my parents bought me when I was 8 years old.
Digging deep into one of the drawers, I discovered the poster wedged between autographed pictures of wrestler Verne Gagne and astronaut Jim Lovell. I’m not sure who made the poster (probably the city judging from the logos at the top of the page) or how it came into my possession. That memory faded long ago.
Other recollections, however, began to return as I pondered its contents. Below a picture of the presidential limousine presumably being escorted to town is a portion of the front page of Eden Prairie News’ coverage of that day.
No wonder I kept it. I wrote one of the stories in that March 7, 2002, issue. Under the headline, “Up close view of Bush gets rave reviews,” I asked people on the scene for their observations on the president.
I was there, too, packed into the school’s activity center with students, teachers, local dignitaries, and Secret Service agents, waiting for the president to emerge to talk about education.
In retrospect, I don’t remember much about the president’s speech. My story states he spoke for about 40 minutes. The wait, I do remember. It was three hours spent on my feet fidgeting in the area designated for reporters and TV cameras.
I understood, though. Security precautions for a president are tight, even more so since the visit occurred just six months after 9/11.
When he finally did show up, President Bush impressed across party lines. For that moment, political discord seemed to take a holiday.
“Firm handshake,” said current Eden Prairie Mayor Ron Case, at the time a council member. “Equal to Bill Clinton’s (handshake).”
One of the students I quoted was a sophomore named Stewart Decker.
“Now I have something to tell my grandchildren about,” he told me.
An idea came to me as I contemplated that comment in present terms. I opened the web browser on my computer. After a few clicks, I sat back and pondered my findings.
Now 35, Stewart Decker is a family doctor in Oregon.
Yes, it has been a very long time.