Ike’s great-grandson to help mark school’s 50th

34th president’s kin to address students


Eisenhower Middle School in Oregon has a big 50th anniversary coming up, and a member of the Eisenhower family is scheduled to be the keynote speaker.

Merrill Eisenhower Atwater is the great-grandson of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the school’s namesake, who was the 34th U.S. president and before that the five-star general who served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II.

Mr. Atwater will be part of an April 12 celebration that includes the dedication of a time capsule that will be buried for 25 years in the school’s front yard. The event begins at noon, and the public is invited.

“We are just thrilled and honored to have Mr. Atwater come to Oregon to speak to our students about the history of the Eisenhower name on this monumental occasion,” Principal Rebecca Bihn said. “It should be an unforgettable afternoon, one that our students will not forget and will someday tell their children about.”

Mr. Atwater won’t be the first Eisenhower to visit. For its 25th anniversary celebration in 1988, David Eisenhower and his wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, visited. Amy Hansen, a school mother and chairman of the anniversary committee, said they were unavailable to return this year. David Eisenhower is the grandson of the late president; his wife is the daughter of former President Richard Nixon.

Mr. Atwater, 32, said he is honored to be the speaker. He lives in the Kansas City area and works in the sustainable-fuel industry. Even though he never knew his great-grandfather, he said, he knows a great deal about him, as a student of history and through family lore.

He even refers to his great-grandfather as “Ike,” using the two-term president’s boyhood nickname that stayed with him all his life. Mr. Atwater’s mother is Mary Jean Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter. She was born in Washington during Mr. Eisenhower’s first term and christened in the Blue Room of the White House.

He said his address would include details about his great-grandfather’s presidency, which spanned 1953 to 1961.

“When Ike was president, we were just getting out of the industrial revolution and entering the technology revolution, which we are now in,” he said. “When Ike was born there was the horse and buggy. He was the first president to fly in a helicopter and go in a nuclear submarine. Ike started NASA. He supported and signed the highway bill that established our Interstate Highway System.”

Eisenhower Middle school, originally a junior high, was renamed after a grade reconfiguration in 1988. Next year, after another reconfiguration, the building will become Eisenhower Intermediate School and house fifth and sixth graders. Ms. Bihn will be transferred to what is now Fassett Middle School but next year will be the Oregon district’s junior high. Only a secretary and four teachers will remain at Eisenhower.

Ms. Bihn said the changes make the 50th anniversary celebration all the more important. She said the students have written essays and had photos taken for the occasion.

“It really means a lot,” she said. “This is an emotional time for us.”