Tuesday, Feb. 22


Lincoln College Museum curator guest at White House Lincoln program     Send a link to a friend

[FEB. 22, 2005]  The Lincoln College Museum curator, Ron Keller, and his wife, Cindy, were invited guests to join President George W. and Mrs. Bush at the White House on Feb. 11 for a special performance of "Lincoln Seen and Heard." The event marked the 196th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.

Besides his work with the museum, Keller is also associate professor of history and political science at Lincoln College. He was invited to Washington, D.C., through his involvement on the National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and his association with the congressionally appointed executive director. In the crowd of roughly 100 guests, many were from Bush's cabinet, members of Congress and other political leaders. There were also businessmen and Abraham Lincoln scholars like Keller.

Keller said that before the program began, his first indication that the evening was going to be a rather auspicious occasion was meeting former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was also patiently waiting for the program to begin.

Joe Garrera, a Lincoln scholar from New York, told Keller and his wife, "Stick with me, we're going to get you up front. You're going to have a real opportunity tonight to mingle with the president." The Kellers sat in the East Room, in the very front row next to the presidential podium. After the seats were filled, the president and first lady walked in and sat four seats from the Kellers.

Keller said the program consisted of a series of slide show photographs of Abraham Lincoln throughout his life, with Lincoln expert Harold Holzer telling of the history behind the photographs and what Lincoln was doing at those points in his life. "As each picture appeared, actor Sam Waterston recited Lincoln's exact words spoken at those times, with great character -- speeches which were often funny, thought-provoking, emotional and poignant," said Keller.

After the one-hour presentation, President Bush addressed the crowd, reminding the audience of Lincoln's commitment to freedom, equality and preservation of the American republic as the "last, best, hope on earth."

Keller said the president invited everyone to the State Room for a reception after his remarks. Keller was amazed by the first couple taking time to talk and socialize with the crowd.

"While we waited in line, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist came up to introduce himself and ask about us," stated Keller. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and actor Sam Waterston also greeted them warmly.

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The Lincoln College Museum curator, Ron Keller, and his wife, Cindy, pose with President and Mrs. George W. Bush during an event at the White House that marked the 196th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth.

Keller said they talked with the president and first lady for about four or five minutes. "I introduced us, informed them we were from Lincoln, Ill., and Lincoln College -- both the first city and first college named for our greatest president," he said.

Keller said Bush acknowledged that and responded by saying, "Lincoln College was named for a great man."

Keller said his wife handed Bush a piece of paper and asked if he would sign an autograph for their kids. After Bush found out that the Kellers have three children, President Bush replied, "Well, then let me sign three pieces of paper."

Keller said he shared his mutual admiration for Abraham Lincoln with the president and was surprised when Bush asked, "Been upstairs to see the Lincoln bedroom?" Keller was dumbfounded at the rare opportunity to see one of the most famous rooms in the White House. He replied "You mean we can go up there?" Bush smiled at Keller slyly and said, "Yes, but you better go before I change my mind."

About 10 minutes later, President Bush walked into the room and asked the Kellers, "Havin' a good time?" The Kellers responded yes and told Bush that they were having the time of their lives.

The president, having remembered their previous conversation, asked, "Have you two been up to the Lincoln bedroom like I advised you to?"

Keller said no, but assured him they would, and then the president wished the Kellers a good evening.

Keller was happy about the warm reception he and his wife received from the president and first lady. "We couldn't believe how gracious and welcoming the Bushes were, making us feel at home," he said. "It was an unforgettable four hours for us, and we did make it up to see the Lincoln bedroom."

[Lincoln College news release]

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