OSAWATOMIE, Kansas – Ruth Wench was 2 when Teddy Roosevelt rolled into this rural prairie town in 1910, and she hadn’t seen a president in the flesh in the 100 years since. But today, with President Obama’s visit here, the oldest woman in Osawatomie had her dream fulfilled.
“It was very important and exciting to me of course to see one alive,” said Wench, a retired African-American school teacher who has spent the past two decades volunteering as a foster grandparent for elementary school children in Osawatomie. (Her great-granddaughter says she’s the oldest foster grandparent in the United States)
“I’ve seen pictures and TV of course, but to see one who has much interest in middle-class people in little Osawatomie. That God impressed on him to come to Osawatomie and encourage us –” She was speechless.
Donning a white head-wrap and pink nursing home vest, Wench clutched a soft-cover copy of “Dreams of My Father” – Obama’s memoir – that had been wrapped in a ragged plastic bag as she craned her neck to see the president through the crowd.
As Obama spoke about fairness and equal opportunity, she nodded in agreement, gingerly applauding with the crowd. And after the speech, she still nodded, slowly and steadily in continued approval.
“He was very encouraging to me and Osawatomie,” Wench said. “I learned a lot about him and the importance of smaller communities to him and that education and the need for cooperation by all of us to work together.”
Wench said even though she hasn’t always been a Democrat – “That’s a long time to be of either kind of party” – she does hope to cast a ballot for Obama next fall.
“If I’m still alive, I will,” she said.