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Presidential encounters: Kingmanites have fond memories


Courtesy
From left, MCC Financial Services Controller Sonni Marbury, President George W. Bush, Former Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), and former district aide Kristi Pollard pose for a photograph during a 2001 Republican fundraiser. Marbury is one of several MCC employees who have had brief encounters with presidents of the United States of America.

Although Presidents Day has traditionally been a day to celebrate the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, its meaning has shifted over the years toward the commemoration of all former presidents.

For a couple of women who work at Mohave Community College's Kingman campus, the day is a reminder of the times when their lives intersected with the lives of presidents.

Sonni Marbury, the campus' financial services controller, was an active member of the Republican Party in Colorado in the late 1990s, early 2000s. She worked to put on an invitation-only reception in 2001 for a Republican dinner fundraiser that President George W. Bush was scheduled to attend.

The formal reception was winding down and the VIPs were making their way into the dining room when Marbury had the chance to spend a few brief but memorable minutes with Bush.

"He was very down to earth and genuine - very unassuming, not arrogant at all," she said. "He asked each of us who we were and what our role was in the event. He was very appreciative. He's the kind of guy who you would want to hang out with."

Marbury spoke with Bush for about five minutes, all the while thinking: "Oh my gosh, this is the president. He's really nice."

The encounter gave her a new perspective on presidents - even Democrats.

"It (made) me appreciate how hard the job is," she said, adding that presidents can't please everyone all the time. "I think that even a Democrat president is faced with impossible choices. Even though I struggle, I try to remember that.

"Our presidents want the best for people, even though they have different methods of doing it. I think it's a good way to remember that all of them have the right kind of heart."

Presidents Day has a special meaning for Marbury because of the encounter with Bush.

"It makes me remember that I can have a voice if I put my mind to it," she said.

Diana Stithem, the dean of MCC's extended campus, had a much different experience when she encountered a U.S. president.

Her father was an officer in the U.S. Army's Transportation Corps, and as a child, she would occasionally accompany her father to his workplace. On one particular day in the late 1950s, Stithem's office visit gave her a glimpse that few Americans ever enjoy.

"I got to see Ike either get into or out of a car. I don't remember exactly. I was in grade school and that was a long time ago," Stithem said. "But I remember he looked just like his pictures."

The Stithem family was living in Alexandria, Va. in the 1950s during Maj. Dale D. Stithem's assignment at The Pentagon. Because of her age at the time, many of the details surrounding the day have faded.

Maj. Stithem knew that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "Ike," was expected to visit The Pentagon that day and took the young Diana Stithem to his office to watch the president's non-public arrival. Eisenhower served as the United States' 34th President from 1953-1961.

"It was special to my dad because he had served in the Army during World War II under President Eisenhower's command. We were relatively close to the president in proximity, but we didn't wave, just stood in relaxed attention ... I had known at the time that the president had been involved in World War II, just like my dad."

Some MCC employees outside of Kingman have had brief presidential encounters as well.

Joe Moyer, the facilities manager on the Lake Havasu City campus, traveled in the late 1970s with his friends from his Pennsylvania home to attend the national convention for the United States Junior Chamber in Indianapolis. President Gerald Ford was supposed to be speaking at the event.

The Pennsylvania group decided to give the president a warm welcome, and as Ford walked in about 300 attendees raised their kazoos and played "Hail to the Chief," the official presidential anthem of the United States.

"I can remember him walking through the door. He was just smiling and waving. It was phenomenal," Moyer said. "It was a blast. He stopped and pointed, waved and then he directed us. There was no music playing when he walked in, so we gave him a musical entrance."

Dina Nielsen, the student services director on the Bullhead City campus, had a friend who was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation.

Twice a year, appointed volunteers are invited to the White House to be thanked for their service.

As her friend's guest, Nielsen attended the event on the south lawn of the White House. She toured the first lady's garden, the president's putting green and a playground for the president's children. Obama and his wife spoke for a few minutes and shook hands with those who were there.

"There is a charisma you feel around presidents," Dina said. "Obviously, it takes a strong personality to achieve that level, regardless of how you feel about their politics. I remember the energy surrounding the president. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life."




 

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