Presidential visits to the City of Destiny: A look back at presidents and presidential candidates to come to Puget Sound

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By Molly Wampler

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PUGET SOUND ARCHIVES

Harry Truman — June 10, 1948

One of then-vice president Truman’s first stops on an early presidential campaigns was at Puget Sound. Arches’ Autumn 2008 issue notes that he was the first president or presidential candidate to visit campus, but since he came during the summer his visit was not covered by the Trail. Historylink.org wrote about the visit on their website, but not much about his time on campus is noted in that article. Still, Truman is known to be the first presidential figure to speak on this campus, paving the way for more to come.

Dwight Eisenhower — October 18, 1956

When President Dwight Eisenhower paid a visit to Puget Sound’s fieldhouse in 1956 during his second presidential campaign, he attracted a crowd of 6,000, one of the most the venue had ever accommodated. While the Trail in the week following only published a little over 100 words on the event, Puget Sound’s president at the time, Dr. R. Franklin Thompson, kept a detailed and personal log of every pertinent visitor to the school during his presidency.

“While waiting I heard the Chief of the Secret Service saying to himself, ‘Mr. President, I am happy to present to you Dr. Thompson, President of the College of Puget Sound.’ He rehearsed it and rehearsed it and did it with absolute perfection when it was ultimately time to introduce us,” Thompson’s journal reads.

Although short, the Trail article mentioned an unique anecdote: “Eisenhower prefaced his remarks on education by citing the undefeated record of [Puget Sound’s] football team. To the Trail’s knowledge, this year’s Loggers are the first team in [Puget Sound] history to receive a presidential compliment.” Hack Hack Chop Chop!

Richard Nixon — October 27, 1961

When Richard Nixon visited campus, he was still only known as a former vice president of the US, and hadn’t even announced his intention to run for president. Nixon spoke in the fieldhouse on Oct. 27, 1961 at Puget Sound, focusing the conversation on university education and finance.

“According to Nixon, keeping small institutions alive is an important part of our democratic society … Present day taxes and expenses have increased the problem of public contributions to such schools and he therefore advised allocating personal charitable dollars to assist private institutions,” an Oct. 31, 1961 Trail article said. “Nixon expressed gratitude to the men and women of thought who have stimulated the minds of youth in American colleges and universities.”

John F. Kennedy (Cheney Stadium in Tacoma) — September 27, 1963

While John F. Kennedy never made it to campus, he did draw a crowd of around 20,000 to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma on Sept. 27, 1963, where he tossed his prepared speech to talk about education and natural resources, the shortly following Oct. 2 “Special Presidential Issue” of the Trail explained.

“One of the monumental experiences of many of the people of the city of Tacoma was experienced Friday morning,” a Trail article on the event says, “when the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, appeared and presented a speech on the topic of conservation and recreation.”

“Talented and able people must make decisions not for the long look forward,” JFK said, quoted in the Trail. “Those of you now in school must prepare for leadership. You must make sure the United States maintains its responsibilities. We want to see this country continue to grow.”

For many attendees, this speech was their first time seeing JFK, but for many more it was the last. “But whether young or old,” the Trail wrote, “all those who flocked to Cheney Stadium last Friday will testify that it was an experience they will never forget.”

Hillary Clinton — February 8, 2008

“Undoubtedly the biggest even at UPS this year was the visit of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton,” a reflection Trail article from the end of spring semester in 2008 said.

Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign staff called UPS two days before the Feb. 8, 2008 rally to rent the memorial fieldhouse, as she and her rival Barack Obama “remained at a near tie following votes on Super Tuesday,” the article said. Obama had a Seattle rally planned for the same day, around the same time, so Clinton opted for Tacoma.

While at Wellesley College, she was taught by Phil Phibbs, former president of Puget Sound. She said at the event that she had “heard so many great things about the campus over the years,” and decided it was time to pay a visit.

Class attendance was incredibly low on that Friday, and according to the Trail article published the week of her appearance, “some professors used vacation time to cancel class.” French professor Steve Rodgers was one. “[Rodgers] said he did not want students to look back years from now and say they could have seen a president speak but had to be in class.”

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