MAUREEN BURNS: Individual brushes with greatness

By Maureen Burns • Last Updated 9:18 pm on Friday, March 02, 2012

Greenville resident Brian DeKraker meets President George W. Bush at a campaign stop in Ionia. — Courtesy photo

Maureen Burns

This is the third and final part in my column series on personal encounters with U.S. presidents. I hope you are enjoying it.

When our daughter, Colleen, graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Barbara Bush was her commencement speaker. She wore a blue dress with pearls and everyone loved her! She was so charming and warm and I quote her to this day. One thing she said was that she was “going to share the secret of parenting …when your child wants to lick the beaters, be sure to turn off the motor.” It brought the house down.

Gary Hansen has “worked with President Jimmy Carter on several Habitat for Humanity projects. Rosalynn was always at his side. They are down to earth. Most importantly, so many in the world have safe, decent and affordable housing because of him.”

Roseanne Brouwer’s “parents were Republicans, but once attended church in Plains, Ga., and went to Sunday school taught by Jimmy Carter. Some walls came down that day!”

Gunder Myran, former president of Washtenaw Community College, met Ford, Reagan and Carter. He says, “The visit to the Carter Center was the most meaningful because President and Mrs. Carter were so gracious and unhurried with us. They have a genuine interest in community colleges and public service. I can see why Jimmy Carter is regarded as the best ex-president we have ever had.”

Bonnie and Hal Braman were having dinner in Hawaii in 1980. “Men in suits came into the dining room, looked everything over and a few minutes later, President and Mrs. Carter came in and had dinner. It was definitely an unforgettable moment.”

Cathy and Ken Erickson went to the Lansing airport to greet Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1992. Ken said to Hillary, “Thank you for running.” She replied, “Someone’s got to do it!”

Terri Handlin heard Bill Clinton speak at an Economic Club in Grand Rapids. “He was a bigger than life individual. He opened his speech by asking us to thank the wait staff at our table. This set the tone to include all people in our nation.”

Dee Cook “met several presidents during her time as trustee at Michigan State University. They were each very memorable and almost overwhelming events. The presidents were all very special, gracious and charming. However, Bill Clinton was on another level in terms of how he connected with people. No matter the circumstances, he looked you directly in the eye and made you feel as though you were the only person in the room and the only one who mattered.”

Brian DeKraker went with his son, Greg, former photographer for The Daily News. Greg was covering a campaign stop with George W. Bush in Ionia. “I got to shake hands with him like we were old college buddies.”

Judy Emmons ran into George W. Bush when he made an unscheduled stop at the Ionia truck stop, which is now closed. She asked him to sign her call list and he did. He also kissed her! She thanks Jan Wyckoff for pushing her to do this!

Al Lorenzo, former president of Macomb Community College, met every presidential candidate since Reagan. “What I remember most is how distinctly different their personalities and persona were. Reagan was affable, personable, warm, approachable and truly “present” when talking with me. George H.W. Bush was extremely professional, very bright, seemed deeply committed to the issues. Barbara was absolutely charming.  Bill Clinton perfected the town hall meeting and is obviously very bright, but a bit slick.
George W. is a real Texan — hardy, less formal than the others, less articulate than the others. Still, he exuded trust, the kind that comes from believing in a handshake deal. When Laura was with him, she stole the show. The two Bush men sure married fine ladies. Finally, Barack Obama, the most charismatic of them all, is absolutely masterful with a town hall audience. He has tremendous people skills and is very personable and caring.”

My own presidential encounters amounted to seeing Jerry and Betty Ford as they led the Cherry Festival Parade in Traverse City. It was a long time ago. I remember that because I only had two little kids! I also remember thinking it was funny that the secret service is secret but so obvious with their suits, sunglasses and ear pieces. I also saw Obama speak in Grand Rapids. Just seeing a president or first lady of the United States with your own two eyes is an event to remember.

I will end this series with a thought. When we see a U.S. president, it doesn’t matter if they are Republican or Democrat. What we see is a real person that loves this country. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could transfer that awareness to this divided nation. God bless America!

Maureen Burns, a Greenville resident, is a professional speaker and author. Her e-mail address is

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