Vivian Bailey, 97, never had the chance to go on a field trip as a child, but on Tuesday, she took the “field trip” of her dreams to the White House and was even surprised by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
“It was quite a surprise! I had no idea we were going to meet the president and the vice president, and it was awesome,” Bailey told ABC News. “It was a dream come true.”
Bailey was invited to tour the White House after the vice president's office saw a story about her work fundraising for an elementary school in Columbia, Maryland.
For the past 16 years, Bailey has led a fundraising effort to help Running Brook Elementary School fulfill its “wish list” for students. Part of that wish list includes funding field trips for the school children, something Bailey finds particularly important.
“I’ve been very insistent on trying to make sure our kids get field trips,” Bailey said. “I want our children whose parents are certainly not wealthy to have those opportunities.”
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1918, Bailey moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a child where she attended segregated schools and said her classes were not taken on field trips.
Bailey served in the Women’s Army Corps in Alabama and Georgia from 1942 to 1946, eventually becoming a first lieutenant in charge of 144 women at Fort Benning. After leaving the Army, Bailey moved to Chicago, where she met her husband and worked for the Veterans Administration and the Social Security office. She was then transferred to a Social Security office in Baltimore and retired in Columbia, Maryland, in 1975.
The 97-year-old has raised thousands of dollars for Running Brook Elementary school over the past 16 years, and this year, the school’s principal invited her to attend a field trip to Washington, D.C., with one of the classes -- her first "field trip" ever.
“The part I liked the most was seeing the children enjoy it and knowing that they were seeing some history, too,” Bailey said.
A local FOX affiliate in Washington profiled Bailey’s “field trip” with the students, which caught the attention of the White House. Staff and teachers and Running Brook Elementary School pitched in money to hire a town car to take Bailey, the school’s principal Troy Todd and fourth-grade teacher Melissa Peyton to the White House on Tuesday.
Bailey was told she would receive a tour of the White House, but after waiting in a side room, she was surprised by the vice president.
“Someone told us, ‘We have somebody who wants to meet you,’ so then they were escorting us, and as we stepped in this room, the vice president came to the door and greeted us,” Bailey said. “He was very gracious, very easy to meet and then he said, ‘Somebody else wants to meet you,’ so we walked across over to the president’s office.”
“I was almost speechless. I was so surprised and so honored and so happy,” Bailey said about meeting the president. “I think first thing he said was ‘Welcome.’ I was so surprised that I probably can’t remember exactly what he said. He just was so gracious and the vice president said, ‘I’m gonna get a hug.’ And so he gave me a hug and so did the president.”
First Lady Michelle Obama was unable to meet Bailey, but wrote her a letter telling her to “enjoy your special field trip” at the White House.
“I am so impressed with your lifetime of service to our country and I deeply appreciate your commitment to the next generation,” the first lady wrote.
“I’ve had a lot of experiences that when I was growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that I never expected to experience so I feel very blessed that I was able to do so many things I couldn’t have imagined,” Bailey said.
Bailey, who does not have any biological children, said she considers the children at Running Brook Elementary as her own.
"When people ask how many children I have, I try to keep my face straight. I have over 300!" she said.