Taking advantage of a warm autumn evening, approximately 150 people stood in the parking lot near the front entrances of the Maumee Bay State Park Lodge on Tuesday hoping to catch a glimpse of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.
Obama had been staying at the lodge in Oregon since Sunday, Oct. 12, to prepare for his final debate with Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on Wednesday.
Local media accounts of Sen. Obama spontaneously showing up in neighborhoods to campaign door to door, working out at the YMCA, and walking around Maumee Bay State Park drew people of all ages, armed with cameras and cell phones, to the lodge just in case they got lucky and spotted him.
They weren’t disappointed.
Sheriff’s deputies repeatedly cautioned the group to remain behind yellow security tape that cordoned off a section of the parking lot at approximately 7:15 p.m. Secret service agents exited the lodge to check the purses, bags, and other items carried by the public. The agents, armed with metal detecting wands, scanned individuals from front to back.
About 15 minutes later, a shout rang out from the crowd: “There he is.”
Sen. Obama, wearing a dark blazer over a white shirt open at the collar, suddenly appeared off to the side of the parking lot, making his way toward the crowd amid flashing cameras and outstretched hands.
Obama, who appeared relaxed, was soft spoken as he shook hands, trying to satisfy everyone behind the yellow tape. Secret service agents nervously shoved away cameras that got too close to the candidate.
About 10 minutes later, Sen. Obama, who used both hands to work the crowd, disappeared into the night. Many in the crowd were giddy with excitement, as if they had just shaken hands with a rock star.
Some could be heard to say into their cell phones, “Oh my God. I just shook hands with Barack Obama.”
As darkness fell, the group dispersed and headed for their vehicles.
Obama, indeed, was a crowd pleaser.
“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” said Donna Stefan, of Lake Township. She and husband, Frank, waited about an hour before they got to shake Obama’s hand.
“I think he’s been wonderful all along,” said Donna. “He was very polite and cordial to everyone. He tried to shake as many hands as he could.”
As she shook Obama’s hand, she said `Go do good for our country.’ And he said, `With your help, I will,’” said Donna.
“It was pretty exciting,” added Frank, who also shook Obama’s hand. “I’m sure it was a long day, yet he told everyone that he was happy to meet them.”
Donna said she was pleased Obama chose to spend a few days at Maumee Bay State Park before heading to New York for his third debate.
“I think it’s a great choice. It’s very secluded. It’s a beautiful place,” Donna said of the park, currently surrounded by a blaze of autumn leaves.
Janet Schultz, of Oregon, waited three-and-a-half hours to shake Obama’s hand.
“It’s exciting,” said Schultz. “I’m still in awe. It was pretty cool. He tried to shake everyone’s hands. He went all the way up the whole line. I didn’t think he would do that.”
She was also impressed by his relaxed manner.
“I heard from other people who met him that he’s very personable and soft-spoken, and he was. He seemed like a pretty down to earth guy,” she said.
Schultz said she found out about Obama’s stay at Maumee Bay State Park on Sunday.
“I’m on North Curtice Road, just one mile from the Bay,” she said. “His motorcade has been up and down several times the past couple of days. Every time he goes by, I wave and he always sticks his hand out and waves back. I’m the only person on my street who was standing outside waiving at him, and he waved back, which I thought was pretty cool.”
Schultz had hoped to ask him some questions, but he didn’t stay long.
Still, she said, “it was very much worth the wait.”