December 12, 2016
Former astronaut, senator and Democratic presidential candidate John H. Glenn, Jr. came to Carroll on Nov. 12, 1983, in the midst of the 1984 presidential primary season.
Serving on Glenn’s statewide advisory committee, I played a key role in getting Glenn to come to Carroll and had a shoulder-to-shoulder look at the events of that day.
We had worked for more than a month to secure the campaign stop, having lobbied face-to-face with John’s wife, Annie, and his daughter, Lyn, who had both been here and in nearby Audubon. Lyn had stayed overnight at our home and helped influence her dad’s decision to come here.
But as morning broke on Nov. 12, the visit was suddenly in jeopardy. Glenn and his campaign staff had flown to Sioux City that morning, just ahead of an early snowstorm. The plan was to go to Spirit Lake, Spencer, Storm Lake and Carroll, and then go on to Des Moines for a candidate forum that evening.
As the storm moved in, the Glenn staff became fearful that they might not make it to Des Moines. We were involved in a flurry of phone calls as they decided which towns to cut from the schedule.
I remember telling a staffer on the phone that I would have more than 200 people at the Elks Lodge in Carroll waiting to see Senator Glenn. They finally decided to skip Spencer and Storm Lake and come to Carroll, the closest site to Des Moines. They sent the plane ahead to the Carroll airport to try to stay ahead of the storm. The Glenns and their staff drove down to Carroll in two rented vans.
When they arrived, we walked John and Annie through the Westgate Mall where store owners, shoppers and some dignitaries were waiting. As soon as he was in the mall, John Glenn was on a mission. He stopped in at Hammond Jewelry, and then Loehr’s Jewelry, looking for a watch with multiple faces that would keep track of time in different time zones. Unfortunately, neither store had the right stuff.
After greeting people throughout the mall, I mentioned to John that Max Reed at Anderson’s Shoes told me to tell him “hello.”
Glenn turned instantly in my direction.
“Is Colonel Reed here in Carroll?” he asked.
When I told him he was right across the street, he said, “Let’s go!”
When we walked into Anderson’s Shoes, Max was at the back of the store.
“Colonel Reed,” Glenn called out.
“Colonel Glenn,” Max replied, seeming to come to attention as the two shook hands.
Later Max would explain to me that he and Colonel Glenn had served together in the service but he couldn’t say just what they worked on.
Then we headed over to the Elks Lodge, where more than 200 people were indeed waiting. As we arrived at the Elks, it began to snow.
Parked outside the Elks was a futuristic-looking vehicle called a Litestar Car. It looked like a small rocket but was in fact a two-passenger vehicle that an engineer had invented and was lobbying the city of Carroll hard to invest in to build a plant to mass-produce the vehicle.
Glenn was immediately attracted to the vehicle, asking questions and at one point climbing onto the driver’s seat. (John would later say that it was too cramped and wasn’t likely to be successful).
When we went inside, I had the pleasure of introducing Annie and John Glenn to the enthusiastic crowd. After his initial remarks, John began taking questions from the crowd. The event lasted just over two hours. During that time it continued to snow.
As the event wrapped up, a staffer came up to me to let me know that their plane had been grounded at the airport due to ice and snow. He asked if we could arrange for a couple of vans to drive to Des Moines.
I called Mike Wittrock at Wittrock Motors.
“Mike, I need a couple of passenger vans,” I said.
“When?” he asked.
“Right now,” I said. “We have to get John Glenn down to Des Moines.”
“I’ll have them there in 15 minutes,” he replied, and true to his word, two vans pulled up outside the Elks Lodge.
We all piled in. Mike drove one van, and I drove the other. John and Annie Glenn, my wife, Diane, and two staffers were in my van. The rest went with Mike. And off we drove, into an Iowa snowstorm, with our guests.
Initially, John and Annie sat in the back while the staffers prepared the senator for that evening’s forum.
What I didn’t know is that my wife had bought me a copy of Tom Wolfe’s novel “The Right Stuff” about the seven original Mercury astronauts. It was to be a Christmas present, but now she had the opportunity to have John Glenn sign it.
“To Tim — with best regards, and many thanks for all the help — John Glenn”
John later came up to the passenger’s side seat with a bag of peanut M&Ms, his favorite snack, and we talked about the campaign, and Iowa, and how snow is snow, whether it’s in Iowa or Ohio.
We arrived in Des Moines and got John there in plenty of time. We were invited to stay, but we needed to get Mike and his vans back to Carroll.
We would see John, Annie and Lyn often in the next few months leading up to the caucuses in January. It became a running joke that it’s probably going to snow each time we met.
Later, in the ’90s when I was president of the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Chamber of Commerce, John had tentatively agreed to come and speak at our annual banquet. But there was one potential schedule conflict he couldn’t discuss. We received a phone call about a month before the event, with regrets that he couldn’t attend our banquet. He had just been approved for a flight on the space shuttle Discovery.
If you had an image of John Glenn and hadn’t met him, he was exactly as you would image — straight-arrow, honest, direct and truthful. Courageous, yet humble, dutiful, warm, considerate and true.
He truly is America’s Hero, and I will miss him.