Locals enjoy the time with president

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

When President George W. Bush took the stage at Auburn University Montgomery for his town hall meeting, Greenville had connections on the stage and the audience.

Two guests of the President who were on stage with him, Don Farnsworth, a retired University of Alabama pilot, and Beth Farnsworth, a senior at Auburn, have relatives in Butler County.

Don Farnsworth is the father of Kim Owens, who lives in Old Texas and teaches fifth grade at Greenville Middle School. Because of her father and niece, Kim, and her two sons not only had VIP seating just behind Gov. Bob Riley, but also had a private meeting with the president after the event.

"Beth was chosen because she is an honors student at Auburn," Owens said Friday morning.

"On Tuesday someone called from the White House to interview her and she ended up being chosen for the honor. Of course, the deal was she had to take a grandparent with her."

Kim Owens said while she and other family members were sitting in the audience before the event, Don and Beth were backstage chatting with the president.

"They did that little meeting for about 30 minutes so that they wouldn't be nervous once they got on stage with the President," she said.

While Owens thought just seeing him in person was an honor, she had no idea she'd get even closer to President Bush.

"One of his secret service men came up and said that when he came back after the meeting was over, we needed to follow him quickly to the back," she said.

When they got to the backstage, they were stunned to find themselves in the presence of the President of the United States.

"It was very informal afterwards with him," she said.

"I told him I am a teacher and we talked about his daughter, who just started teaching in the inner city schools in Washington.

He told me to be a good role model and example for my students."

Owens said the meeting was very casual and the President acted very laid back.

"I didn't feel nervous talking to him, he was very personable," she said.

"Every time he shook one of our hands, he would repeat our name and say something like, 'Kim, it is nice to meet you.'"

Her sons, Miller, 12, and Deaton, 8, also both met the president and were thrilled at the opportunity.

"This was just a once in a lifetime experience," she said.

"My children will definitely remember this day and seeing their grandfather on stage with the President will a be a memory that will last a lifetime."

Owens went on to say that it was because of her niece's hard work that the family had an opportunity to meet the President.

"Oh my boys will definitely be writing a thank you letter to their cousin Beth," she said.

While Owens had an up close and personal chat with the President, other Greenvillians were just happy to see him from the bleacher seats.

Sue Arnold, assistant city clerk, spent an entire day in Montgomery on her quest to see the man she supports fully.

She was not let down.

"Everyone kept using the word awesome, but first it was an honor for me," she said.

"It was a very patriotic day."

Arnold said she believed what the president had to say was on target.

"I think his message made perfect sense and I liked the way he handled the town hall meeting," she said.

Arnold said she and those she attended with had great parking and were quickly ushered in through the security checkpoints.

"It was just an extraordinary day for us all," she said.

Jim Dunklin, president of the Butler County branches of People's Bank & Trust said he and his family enjoyed the opportunity to see the President, but felt the event staff failed miserably in getting people inside and in place.

"It was a wonderful event, however, AUM did a very poor job of parking and then funneling everyone through one metal detector," he said.

"Once you got up to the checkpoint you realized they were trying to herd everyone into one line and that caused a bottleneck."

Dunklin said he and his family did not get inside until after the President had already started speaking, but it was still worth the wait.

"We took all three of our children," he said. "In my lifetime, I've only seen one other president in person and that was in 1984 when Pres. Reagan came to the University of Alabama. We took the children yesterday because I think it is a great educational experience for them.

They loved it. I was pleased for them. It could easily be a once in a lifetime experience."

One thing Dunklin said amazed him was the national media traveling with the President.

"It was interesting to me to see all the media there," he said.

"I'm not talking about WSFA or WAKA, but the 'big boys' like CNN and Fox.

You're just overwhelmed by the media there."

As for the President's plan, he said he is not informed enough to make a decision about it.

"I don't think they'll change it because too many people in this country are saying 'don't mess with my social security,'" he said. "But if we are going to have Social Security in the future, we're the ones that have got to change it."

Dunklin said he highly doubts it will ever be an issue that is fixed and that he'll likely not see any of the money he pays in.

"If we think we are going to see a penny of our Social Security, we are whistling Dixie," he said.