Peoria Journal Star

January 21, 2005

Notre Dame students shiver for a glimpse of Bush

By Dori Meinert
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Julie Knoblauch and 48 other students from Peoria's Notre Dame High School stood in line for more than an hour Thursday on the U.S. Capitol lawn to catch a distant glimpse of President Bush as he took the oath of office for the second time.

It took that long to get through security, where the students were patted down for weapons or other prohibited objects before entering a cordoned-off area for ticketholders.

But Knoblauch, 17, and her classmates said it was worth the wait in 30-degree weather.

"It is truly amazing, and we'll be able to tell our kids and grandkids, 'Oh, we were there. That's the inauguration.' It's just impressive to be able to say that," said Knoblauch, who lives in Metamora.

The Notre Dame students plan to stay in Washington for Monday's March for Life, an annual event for their school.

The students received their tickets for the inauguration from U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, a past president of Notre Dame's school board and a graduate of the school's predecessor, Spalding Institute.

"It's heartwarming when you meet kids like that and see the gleam in their eye," LaHood said. He distributed about 300 tickets to central Illinois constituents. In addition to the 200 that every House member was allotted, he had others given to him by the state's Democratic senator, Dick Durbin.

Most of those tickets were for "standing-room" on the Capitol lawn. The students arrived at 10:30 a.m. for the noon event.

"I thought it was very neat," said Shirley Plaag, 18, of Peoria. "I didn't get very close. I didn't get to really see the president. But I heard his words. You don't really need to see him. I could tell we're going to have another great four years."

LaHood and other legislators had seats on the inaugural platform, affording them a close-up that impressed even the most seasoned veterans.

"For me, it is exhilarating to experience," LaHood said. "I know it sounds corny, but I truly love President Bush. I really do. He's an extraordinary man. I like his values. I like his family."

It was the fifth inauguration LaHood has attended, but the first for freshman Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Obama said, "I think that's true whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. Obviously, next week when we start talking about the president's proposals, I think that you're going to see people concerned about some of the issues that have been raised by this administration. But I think on a day like today, all of us just want to celebrate democracy."

Durbin said the atmosphere on the platform "was extremely cordial and festive, even among the different political parties, as it should be," he said.

But Durbin, the Senate minority whip, said that when Bush spoke of the country's domestic needs, he kept thinking, "Wait till your budget shows up, because I'm afraid he's going be cutting lot of programs that people in need count on. We're also concerned about whether his privatization of Social Security will cut benefits, and if it does, that's going to cause hardship for seniors."

As President Bush was sworn in outside the Capitol, about 11 blocks away on Pennsylvania Avenue, a group of central Illinois musicians entertained the crowds waiting for the parade.

The musicians re-created the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band, a Civil War-era band with period instruments and music. Peoria residents Connie and Larry Wachtveitl dressed in period costumes to demonstrate dance steps.

Connie Wachtveitl, 51, a nursery school teacher, said it's always been a dream to dance on Pennsylvania Avenue, where her great-great-grandfather marched in the Grand Review of troops after the Civil War.

"To go to the inauguration is one thing, but to go in my hoop skirt is even better," she said.

Earlier this week, she was buying long underwear and having a wool cape made.

"I'm not a very good cold-weather person. The only person I'd freeze to death for are the 33rd band and George Bush," she said.