Hello from Abilene, Kansas, on the prairies of America’s Heartland. This is the small hamlet in which President Dwight David Eisenhower grew up, home of his presidential library and museum and the final resting place for him and his wife, Mamie. It is the most delightful little town, looking much like it did 50 years ago, when it’s favorite son served two terms as president. Indeed, for two decades, “Ike” played a major role in shaping the history of our country. Coming here and meeting the people of Abilene leaves with you the impression that he was a good and decent man, with strong values and a strong sense of God and country.
This is the fourth and final stop on our week-long adventure, which took us first to Austin, which served as our headquarters for three nights while we visited the LBJ Ranch to the west, President Johnson’s Library and Museum in Austin, and George H.W. Bush’s Library in nearby College Station, east of Austin. Both were a treat. This trip is not about politics, it’s about learning more about the men (and hopefully someday the women) who led our country. The Bush facility was my personal favorite of the two, although LBJ’s ranch gave you a true feel for what the man was about.
Just before driving the three hours to Abilene today, we spent two nights in Independence. This once small Missouri town is the home of Harry Truman. During our stay, we “met” Harry. Actually, Harry would be 125 years old if he were alive today, so his role is played by Mr. Niel Johnson. At 78, he bears a remarkable physical resemblance to our 33rd president. In fact, as he led us around “his” hometown, explaining how he met his wife Bess, showing us his childhood haunts, you felt as though you had met the president himself. In 30 years of traveling around this great land, I cannot remember anyone creating such an incredible image of a historical figure. Niel only dons his hat and steps on for tour coaches and special events, so individual visitors will never know of his talents. But our travelers to Independence came away richer for having met him, and through him learned about a remarkably regular man who changed the face of history by his actions, and then came back to the small Missouri town that was his home and resumed his life. It is said that when his term ended, President Truman and his wife Bess got in their car and drove out of Washington, boarding a train and arriving in Independence the way he had left, whistle stopping his way home, just as he had used the same route to the White House.
We have had a splendid time on this trip, a small band of dedicated and personable travelers, all dedicated to having a great time and learning along the way. Wish you were here. And so it goes…