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FREMONT -- Thirteen-year-old Katie Magnuson and her brother, Joey, were first in line to receive a shiny new dollar coin emblazoned with a fellow Fremonter's image.
The Rutherford B. Hayes gold-colored dollar was released at Federal Reserve banks across the country Thursday, following the coin's official launch at the Hayes Presidential Center.
"We live just a couple blocks away," Joey, 16, said. "We take walks around here sometimes and I saw a sign about this."
Free dollar coins were available to children 18 and under who attended the ceremony on the front lawn of the Hayes home, while Fremont-based Croghan Colonial Bank was on site to exchange dollar bills for the new Hayes coins for everyone else.
"I'm a Hayes so I want to give them to all my grandchildren," James Hays of Curtice said after purchasing two rolls of the dollar coins and an extra five coins for good measure.
While he conceded there's no "e" in his last name, he figures his Irish ancestors simply changed the spelling at some point.
"All the Hayeses were the same at one time," he said.
Business was brisk at the bank's money-changing tent. Dian Dauch, marketing coordinator for Croghan, said the bank had nearly sold out of the 12,000 coins it brought to Thursday's event, although the Hayes coins will be available at all 11 of its branches.
Nationwide, the dollar coins with likenesses of presidents have been decidedly unpopular.
J. Marc Landry, acting associate director of manufacturing for the U.S. Mint, said 1.2 billion of the 4 billion dollar coins produced so far are inventoried in Federal Reserve vaults. Some are in the hands of collectors, and some are being used as intended -- to purchase things.
"They're very convenient in mass transit," Mr. Landry said. "The post office and federal institutions take them, but people still prefer the dollar bill."
The pile-up of unwanted dollar coins was documented in recent news reports, which prompted some in Congress to begin questioning the wisdom of producing the coins. A visitor to the Hayes Center approached Mr. Landry to find out if the U.S. Mint would still be making 0.5-ounce gold coins that feature the presidents' wives. He had heard that the program might be stopped.
Mr. Landry said for now, that hasn't been decided.
"Quite frankly, we only do what's legislated so Congress would have to write us legislation to stop," he said.
Many of the 400 or so people gathered for the launch of the Hayes coin said they have collected all 19 of the presidential dollars issued since the program began in 2007.
Cricket Matherly of Fremont came with her five children, whom she has home-schooled. She said they collect the dollar coins and enjoy visiting Spiegel Grove, which President Hayes called home until his death in 1893.
"We love the house. We love the grounds. We come around to feed the squirrels," she said.
Thomas Culbertson, executive director of the Hayes Center, told the crowd President Hayes "was a Buckeye and proud of it."
A lawyer, Civil War veteran, three-term Ohio governor, congressman, civil rights proponent, and 19th president, President Hayes pushed for the creation of Ohio State University and later served on its board.
When he left the White House to return to Fremont, he became active in local organizations as well, keeping the minutes in his own hand for several of them.
Mr. Culbertson said when President Hayes suffered a heart attack in Cleveland, he said he wanted to come home to die.
"He chose to return here to Fremont saying, 'I prefer to die at Spiegel Grove rather than live anywhere else,' " Mr. Culbertson said. "He was a Buckeye and a Fremonter to the end."
Marvin Gillespie of Oak Harbor brought his daughter and two granddaughters to the event because he wants them to develop an appreciation for history.
"I think you should know more about your past," he said, conceding that he learned quite a bit about President Hayes Thursday. "I'm impressed by him. I didn't know that much about him."
Members of the 1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery Battery C fired off two cannons as Mr. Culbertson, Mr. Landry, and Fremont Mayor Terry Overmyer poured 500 dollar coins from a crystal vase onto a table on the veranda of the Hayes home. Children then lined up for their free coin, getting their hand stamped so they didn't come back for seconds.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.
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