Back to Thane

About 14,000
people saw Clinton;
most were awed

Friday-Kotsiopulos' big day

President found
archway monument
worth seeing

UNK president: Clinton 'genuinely nice guy'

Cheery president's talk brings laughter, ovations

Media 'overwhelming' to staff

Chancellor, student note Clinton's contributions to education, minorities

Dignitaries honored, impressed by
president's speech, enthusiastic crowd

Clinton handshakes excite crowds

Few protesters make it quiet, peaceful visit

Motorcade ride keeps reporters running

'Well-done' speech impresses even Republicans

About 14,000 saw Clinton; most were awed

By The Hub Staff

KEARNEY Ten days ago when they learned he was coming, many Kearneyites were put off by the idea of a visit by Bill Clinton.

They said that Nebraska had been fine for seven years and 11 months without a presidential visit, so why change that now?

But in the five hours he was in town Friday, the president thrilled many of the thousands who saw him.

As he prepared to climb aboard Air Force One to depart Kearney, Clinton said the good feelings were mutual.

 "Kearney is a fine city," he said.

Clinton told the Hub the archway also impressed him. "I loved it. It was an amazing place, an AMAZING place."

Wherever he went in Kearney, Clinton left his mark.

"We've got president germs!" squealed the awestruck students at Emerson Elementary School, where Clinton made an unplanned stop after his speech at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Clinton shook as many hands as he could at Emerson before heading off for the airport. His visit at the grade school left some students vowing they'd never wash their hands again.

Clinton also shook hands with Horizon Middle School students who stood in the cold morning air on the motorcade route waiting for him to pass.

Clinton's handshake left seventh-grader Ashlea Nehls jumping up and down.

"Oh my god," she said.

Brett Wetton, a UNK senior from Geneva, said he couldn't believe Clinton was coming to town until Clinton stepped up to shake his hand. "I was in shock that he actually was here and that he would give a major policy speech at UNK."

Wetton said the motorcade and presidential entourage were impressive. "I don't think we realize how big the office of the president really is until we see something like this."

Thousands of Kearney residents and others tried to view Clinton, but could not because of the limited opportunities. Among those who didn't get a glimpse were four members of the Ord High School team competing in the state one-act play contest in Kearney this weekend.

Krystle Grothe, Abby Max and their teammates camped outside the Health and Sports Center at 7 a.m. but never got to see Clinton.

"We were going to wear American flag bikinis," Abby said.

"We love Bill Clinton, and wanted to make his visit here really special," Krystle said.

One person who did get an up-close view of the president was state Sen. Jim Cudaback of Riverdale, a Republican. He was among the dignitaries who greeted Clinton as he arrived at Kearney Municipal Airport.

Cudaback said that 10 days ago he had his doubts about inviting Clinton to town, but that changed on the tarmac at the airport. "I had a couple of reservations coming in. But going out, I had none."

Cudaback said he mentioned to Clinton it was nice to see pictures of the president with his dog, Buddy.

Cudaback said that Clinton replied: "Well thanks for noticing. He's a good friend to have. He's a true friend."

"I'm a good Republican, don't get me wrong," Cudaback said, "but I've never had an individual of such a high rank talk with me like that and make me feel like I was the only one on the face of the earth."

One of Kearney's residents who was most moved by Clinton's visit was Mayor Pete Kotsiopulos, who traveled through town in the presidential motorcade.

Kotsiopulos said he choked up at times during Clinton's appearance at the UNK Health and Sports Center, particularly when Gov. Mike Johanns spoke about what it means to be a Nebraskan.

Kotsiopulos admitted, however, that his emotions were intense long before Clinton reached the speaking venue.

Kotsiopulos said something just hit him when the motorcade reached Kearney from the airport and thousands of people lined the street. Clinton stopped the motorcade at 39th Street and Avenue N and stepped out to shake hands with the crowd.

"Once we got close to the fairgrounds, all those streets were packed. I lost it. I started crying," Kotsiopulos said.

Former student body President Holley Hatt, a UNK senior from Kearney, said the university benefited from the national media coverage that accompanied the president's visit. "It's been good for UNK to receive the national attention."

Hatt said Clinton's visit also was a bonus for UNK students to acquire a new perspective of the world.

Kearney resident Carol Cope, whose donations have brought many improvements to the UNK campus, said Clinton's speaking ability really impressed her.

"He gives some great speeches," Cope said. "He's a very intelligent man and made some great points, something every American should hear."

Don Walton, a reporter with the Lincoln Journal Star, said he was impressed by Kearney's response to the presidential visit. "I think Kearney has done a super job. I'll bet you Clinton really enjoyed it, especially when he talked about the schoolchildren along the route."