handshakes excite crowds
and TODD GOTTULA
KEARNEY — Whoever supplies hand soap
to Kearney Public Schools can skip Emerson Elementary
Many students there have sworn off
hand-washing after an unexpected visitor — President Bill Clinton —
stopped by to shake their hands Friday afternoon.
After a speech to a crowd of mainly
college students and a tour of The Great Platte River Road Archway
Monument, Clinton went after a younger crowd. He stopped at Emerson,
2705 Ave. E, where he spent three minutes shaking the hands of
students and other onlookers.
"Many kids were saying, 'I am never
washing this hand again,'" said 11-year-old Justin DeKok.
"Even me," added Mark Stankey,
"We've got president germs," said
The president's motorcade earlier had
stopped at 39th Street and Avenue N on his way from the airport to
the University of Nebraska at Kearney. More than 1,000 people,
including students from nearby Sunrise Middle School, had
congregated to see the motorcade.
On the leg of the trip from UNK to
the Great Platte River Archway Monument, the motorcade paused on
11th Avenue just west of Horizon Middle School and Kearney
"Oh my God," shouted Ashlea Nehls, a
seventh-grader at Horizon.
Nehls said her group waved at the
president as he passed the first time on his way to UNK. The
students then went back into the school and watched the president's
speech on television. When it was over, they went outside and waited
25 minutes before the motorcade came by again and
"It was so cool," said Bobby
Phillips, a Horizon seventh-grader who was holding an American
The motorcade route included 39th
Street, Avenue E, the Avenue H overpass and Lakeview Drive near UNK.
Kearney Police Chief Dan Lynch estimated that 7,500 people lined the
streets of Kearney to catch a glimpse of the motorcade.
In addition to stopping at Emerson
and near Horizon and Sunrise Middle Schools, students from Kearney
High School, Bryant Elementary School and Kearney Catholic High
School also lined the streets of Kearney.
Clinton's three stops, combined with
several speeches at the UNK convocation, put him behind schedule by
an hour. White House spokesman Jason Schechter said it's not unusual
for Clinton to stop along his motorcade route.
"He does this all the time. This is
all a part of his visit. The president doesn't do this in foreign
countries or in cities like L.A. or New York, but this is normal,"
Schechter said. "The time schedule is only a basic itinerary. We
rarely stick to those exact times. We don't consider this running
Schechter was surprised at the size
of the Kearney crowds. "This crowd is bigger than normal," he said.
"It's not as big as during the campaign season, but the streets are
lined with people, and we don't always see that."
When the Emerson students heard their
school was along one of the possible routes from the airport to UNK,
they made posters to welcome the president. Clinton's Secret Service
men took a few of the posters for Clinton to autograph. Clinton
obliged, signing, "Thanks. Bill Clinton," and included Friday's
Principal David Townsend said he was
told Clinton asked his driver to stop at Emerson on his way from the
airport to UNK, but the driver insisted they continue because of the
day's tight schedule. Townsend said a Secret Service agent made it
"very clear he would definitely stop on the way back. They were
When they saw the president, students
DeKok and Stankey said he wasn't anything like they expected. "He
didn't look like that on TV," Stankey said. "His hair wasn't as
white as I thought."
The 10-year-old said that as much as
Clinton gestures with his hands when he talks, he expected the hands
to be more coarse. "When he shakes your hand, it's like a pillow,"
DeKok said Clinton had several
"bumps" up his sleeve as if he were wearing several
The one that could be seen caught
DeKok's eye. "I thought he would have a more expensive watch," he
said, and that it would be equipped with high-tech
It was the Secret Service men who had
numerous communications radios and other equipment. Because of that,
the fifth-graders appeared to find the Secret Service almost as
fascinating as the president.
"It was scary how much security they
had," DeKok said.
The Secret Service used a security
wand on many of the adults. Stankey said he tried to get the Secret
Service to scan him.
DeKok said that throughout the
morning, at least three uniformed officers stood at corners around
Hub Staff Writer Amy Schweitzer
contributed to this story.