14,000 saw Clinton; most were awed
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
As he prepared to climb aboard Air
Force One to depart Kearney, Clinton said the good feelings were
"Kearney is a fine city," he
Clinton told the Hub the archway also
impressed him. "I loved it. It was an amazing place, an AMAZING
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
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
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
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,
Cudaback said that Clinton replied:
"Well thanks for noticing. He's a good friend to have. He's a true
"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
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
"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
Hatt said Clinton's visit also was a
bonus for UNK students to acquire a new perspective of the
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."