Jeff Armes was 50 feet in the air, supported by scaffolding, when he received an urgent phone call from the Obama campaign. Could he, Jeff, a chimney sweep from New Bedford, Mass., drop work and fly to Ohio to meet the President of the United States?
His answer: Absolutely.
Mr. Armes, as the Obama spokesman told him on Monday, won a contest to meet the President after his $25 campaign donation entered him into a lottery in June. The campaign would fly him and his wife, Cheri, to Ohio this week to meet the President during the Maumee segment of his "Betting on America" bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"He was so shocked," laughed Mrs. Armes, recalling that the news made her husband forget about a meeting that afternoon.
A staunch Obama supporter, Mr. Armes said he was surprised partly because he didn't know that he had entered a contest at all; he just wanted to support the President's re-election campaign.
He was even more surprised that his $25 donation rated consideration for the prize -- at a time when rich donors have given millions to support both presidential campaigns.
Husband and wife spent Wednesday night at a hotel in Maumee courtesy of the campaign.
Thursday morning, they were on the runway for the arrival of Air Force One at Toledo Express Airport.
"My heart was going like a hammer," said Mr. Armes as he recalled shaking hands with Mr. Obama as he departed the plane.
After entering the campaign bus, the couple then received something foreign heads of state might even fail to get: 20 minutes of private time with the President of the United States.
"The amount of access we got was amazing," said Mrs. Armes. An aide and a Secret Service agent were present, said Mr. Armes, but the couple still commanded the President's attention for the entire ride to Mr. Obama's rally at the Wolcott House.
"I was intimidated the whole time," Mrs. Armes said. "Everybody was asking me, 'What are you going to say to the President of the United States?' And I didn't know how to answer that. But the moment you meet him, he just puts you at ease, and you feel like you can talk to him and have an enjoyable conversation."
Said Mr. Armes, "I was flabbergasted. I didn't think he would be so easy to talk to."
Mr. Armes found that he had some personal background in common with the President. Both men talked about being raised by single parents and the effect it had on their childhood.
"I think that's what made us strong," said Mr. Armes. "He seemed to agree."
They discussed their daughters and the challenge of competing with school and friends for their attention. Mr. Armes talked about his daughter Lindsay, 19, who studies at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. Mr. Obama talked about his daughter Malia's 14th birthday, which they celebrated on July Fourth.
"He was very mellow, and he didn't seem snobby," said Mr. Armes of the encounter.
Although they steered clear of talking politics with the President, Mr. Armes counts himself among those who personally benefited from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better know as Mr. Obama's stimulus bill.
The owner of a chimney cleaning and repair business, Mr. Armes said the bill financed a $50,000 loan from the New Bedford Economic Development Council to expand the company.
Thursday's meeting only strengthened Mr. Armes' support for the President. "He's out to help us all," he said.
The couple stayed for the rally at the Wolcott house before the Obama campaign flew them home that day.
Both husband and wife were highly appreciative of the experience.
"It's something I'll tell my grandchildren about," Mrs. Armes said.
Contact Casey Sumner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6084.