Centennial of White House correspondence

• News of celebration dinner sparks memories
By James Hornaday
The recent news coverage of the 100-year celebration of the White House Correspondents’ dinner brought back memories of events in 1960. My small liberal arts school, Monmouth College with Presbyterian connections, in Monmouth, Ill, participated in the Washington Semester Program with American University in Washington, D.C. Three juniors were selected from Monmouth for the 1960 spring semester; Tom Matthews, Lynn McKeon and me.
Along with students from all over the U.S., we attended classes on the operation of the U.S. government, including the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. We attended regular class with extensive seminars with Congress and staffers, the Executive Branch and the United States Supreme Court.
We were required to select a separate project for our semester experience, and for some reason, I picked the Presidential press conference. As a jag, I called the White House and requested a pass to attend a presidential press conference. Thinking nothing would come of my phone call, I soon forgot about the call. Several weeks later when I returned to the dorm, several students were looking at my door with a note attached: “Hornaday, call the White House.”
My next call was answered by a White House staff person who advised that yes, I could attend a President David “Ike” Eisenhower press conference. But first, I was invited to a personal conference with Lawrence Haggerty, Ike’s press secretary. Following my hour conference with Sec. Haggerty, I was ushered into an Ike press conference.
Ike was very red faced and grandpa-looking. He knew how to handle the press; when a tough question was asked, he would act like he was trying to answer without saying anything.
A reporter from my hometown newspaper — the Des Moines Register and Tribune (where I had a paper route in junior high in Des Moines) — asked a very complicated question about parity in farm prices. Later, I found out that absolutely no one, but no one understood farm parity prices as they were somehow connected to farm prices back in the New Deal.
Ike didn’t miss a beat in answering the question, “Thank you for the good question. I will refer the question to my Secretary of Agriculture (Lloyd Benson), and I am sure he will provide you with the necessary information.”
Haggerty asked me to send him a copy of my paper, but I just didn’t think it was good enough. He also got me into another Ike press conference.
In answer to the usual question, yes, even back in 1960, the professors were way off to the left. When asked a question on any subject, one of the female students would respond, “What ever the liberal position is on this issue, is my position.”
Our professor, who was also the director of the program, was a big Hubert Humpfrey fan. The following summer, I sold my paint wagon for a one-way ticket for a summer trip to Alaska with my friend, Tom. Thus, my Alaska experience commenced.
The next spring, my wife to be, Karen Harr, attending the Washington semester program from Monmouth. She returned enthralled by the Kennedys. “The look like just like movie stars,” she reported.

James Hornaday is a former Homer District Judge and Homer mayor.

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Posted by on May 14th, 2014 and filed under Point of View. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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