By Mike Peters. Originally published in the Greeley Tribune, February 14, 2004.
It was a cold, crowded day at the Greeley train depot, and Mary Jo Dempsey was too short to see the president. "I asked my dad to hold me up, over the crowd, and there he was, President Herbert Hoover, a little blob in the distance on the back of the train.”
But despite the "little blob" so far away, Dempsey will always remember the day she saw the president in person.
On this President's Day, there are many people in Greeley and Weld County who had presidential connections, including the presidents and those who ran against them.
Some, like Hoover, never stepped from the back of the train on campaign whistle stops, while others had a closer connection.
The first presidential candidate to visit Greeley was Horace Greeley, the town's namesake, who came for a one-day visit right after the town was settled in 1870. Two years later, in 1872, Greeley ran for president and lost to Ulysses S. Grant.
There are also brief historical notes at the Greeley Museums that President Grant came through Weld County and Greeley in 1875.
Vice President Teddy Roosevelt stopped briefly in Greeley around the turn of the century, probably traveling from his favorite hunting areas in Wyoming to Denver.
In 1906, three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan passed through Greeley on a campaign tour. That year, he lost to William Howard Taft.
Editor of the Kersey Enterprise newspaper, Pete DeWolfe was also the stepson of President Warren G. Harding. Before he was elected president, Harding and the editor's mother, future First Lady Flossie Harding, came to Kersey occasionally to visit family. During his campaign in 1920, Harding also made a brief visit to Greeley.
Probably in early 1916, colorful, mustachioed, Republican presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes made a brief appearance at the train depot. He would later lose the election to Woodrow Wilson.
When Dempsey saw President Hoover, he was passing through Greeley on what was called a whistle-stop campaign. The trains would travel across the country, from large city to large city, and only stopping for minutes in the small towns in between. Dempsey thinks they might have stopped in Greeley only long enough for the steam locomotive pulling the train to get filled
with water. Dempsey, now 84, has seen other presidents and future presidents in Greeley.
In 1937, when Carol Shwayder was six years old, she and all the children of Lincoln School walked to the downtown train depot to see Franklin D. Roosevelt. “I remember the train came from the north, from Cheyenne," Shwayder said. "When it stopped, FDR and his wife, Eleanor, stepped out on the back of the train and waved to us."
About 1940, Wendell Willkie, running for president against FDR, made a Greeley whistle stop. Willkie became known more for his Willkie buttons than for his impact on the country.
Thomas Dewey, the unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1948, stopped in Greeley briefly on a whistle stop tour.
Although she doesn't recall the year, Dempsey also remembers a caravan of black cars being driven down 8th Avenue in Greeley, and Richard Nixon waving from the window of one vehicle. It was probably when Nixon was vice president in the 1950s.
Visits to Weld County and Greeley diminished in recent years, likely because Denver visits attracted larger crowds and more publicity. However, in 1988, long-shot candidate Jesse Jackson headed a rally at the University of Northern Colorado.
And just two weeks ago, Michael Reagan, son of President Ronald Reagan, spoke to a Republican banquet, the Lincoln Day dinner in Greeley.