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Published: Tuesday, 1/20/2009

Toledo area visitors thrilled to be witnessing history

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

WASHINGTON - Maybe Martin Luther King, Jr., wouldn't mind that the students from the University of Toledo's Toledo Excel program didn't get to perform a community service after all.

In the whirl of large crowds descending on Washington in preparation for today's inauguration of the United States' first African-American president, the students spent the day visiting tourist sites around the National Mall and soaking up the excitement that was palpable in the District of Columbia.

A group of UT students are shown at the Inauguration of Barack Obama.
A group of UT students are shown at the Inauguration of Barack Obama.
BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

"I think tomorrow is just going to be the best - seeing what you've seen on TV and in the movies, and being here yourself," said Shayla Hampton, 16, of Rogers High School.

She sported several Barack Obama buttons, including one with him paired with Mr. King, whose birthday was celebrated yesterday although the occasion seemed to take a back seat to the anticipation of the momentous events set for today.

"I think he would be so happy. I think he would be overjoyed. Not just that we have a black president, we have a legitimate black president," Ms. Hampton said.

The National Mall was like a party. Set-up crews labored on final arrangements for crowd barricades, speakers, and jumbo TV screens; police directed traffic; on every sidewalk hawkers offered T-shirts, banners, buttons, bumper stickers, hats, flags, books, and even an "official" bag of Obama trail mix.

David Young, director of the Excel program, which provides enrichment experiences at UT for students from underrepresented populations, was waiting for a call to have the students participate in a community service activity at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, where incoming First Lady Michelle Obama was making care packages for U.S. soldiers.

But he said the call never came, adding that was just as well because it would have taken all day and deprived the students of the chance to see national landmarks up close.

Mariah Waller, 17, a senior from Springfield High School, said the group of 44 students visited the Vietnam, Korean, and World War II memorials and spoke at length with a veteran of the Vietnam War.

"It's exciting that we're here in Washington and an African-American is going to be inaugurated president," Miss Waller said. "I wish we could have said we did a community service project in Washington."

The Toledo Excel students are among hundreds, if not thousands, of northwest Ohioans who have journeyed to Washington for today's history-making inauguration of Mr. Obama.

They join hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans who filled the National Mall and the streets stretching away in all directions.

Mr. Obama, who participated yesterday in painting a center for homeless and runaway youths, and his vice president-elect, Joe Biden, will take the oath of office at noon at the U.S. Capitol. That will end eight years of Republican executive administration and launch Democrats into power in the White House, where they join Democrats in power in both houses of Congress.

Long lines snaked out of all the House and Senate office buildings as out-of-town visitors waited for the tickets they had been promised to the inauguration.

Perrysburg resident Ann Studer, with husband, Mike, and three children, picked up their tickets from U.S. Rep. Bob Latta's office, after a 2 1/2-hour wait.

"Everybody was so nice, even though the lines were wrapped around the congressman's office building," Mrs. Studer said. "I just really think people are excited about Obama being sworn in. Just hearing people talk in lines, you just heard his name a lot and they sounded really happy. It's a good feeling being around that."

The family is staying in Gettysburg, Pa., and plans to be at the Shady Grove, Md., station of the Washington Metro by 4 a.m. today.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) bestowed tickets to the swearing-in on nine Army members who are currently assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. All had seen duty in Iraq or Afghanistan or both.

The festive mood was threatened for Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, and his wife, Sarah, and their group, when they returned to the Landover, Md., Metro station parking garage early yesterday morning to find their 2002 Chrysler minivan stolen.

"You have to be philosophical. It certainly has not put a damper on our mood," said Mr. Kapszukiewicz, adding that the group will rent a car to make the trip back.

A group of students from Notre Dame Academy placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday morning.

Contact Tom Troy at

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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