When President George H.W. Bush visited Wilson on May 18th, 1989

• May 22, 2015

As I crisscross the district, I am always intrigued and surprised by the rich history I find, sometimes hidden, within our buildings.  For example, who knew that a chalkboard signed on May 18th 1989 by President George H.W. Bush is kept in a storage room in the basement of Wilson?

For other examples, see Displaying East’s glorious pastCharlotte High’s unparalleled and almost lost murals , Remembering the fallen of the RCSD from America’s past wars

As the story goes, President Bush read an article in US News and World Reports about the successes of the Wilson Magnet High School.  As part of a trip to Rochester, Bush chose to see Wilson to offer praise, becoming the only sitting or former President to visit a school in the RCSD.

When recently at Wilson, I inquired further. A few veteran teachers retold anecdotes, particularly that Bush had signed a chalkboard still kept somewhere in the school. With the help of the janitor, we tracked it down, now covered in plexiglass and well preserved. In another storage room, I was shown a photo of Bush writing on a poster board with then Principal Suzanne Johnston. What finds!

President Bush and Principal Johnston

Intrigued, I visited Principal Johnston at Mercy High School where she is now President. She showed me bulging files and binders filled with photos, invitations, news clippings, follow up holiday cards, and other memorabilia chronicling the trip. She even has some golf balls Bush sent as a thank you gift after he learned her husband was an avid golfer.

Here, I’ll let Johnston tell the story:

The advance team, numbering 10, came 5 days early to prepare for the visit – logistics, phone lines, security, emergency blood supply, etc. They went out of their way to meet with students who had a stream of questions

When we began planning the visit, the advance team envisioned the President meeting with a small group of leaders and a handful of students. After considerable discussion, the President met with 12 members of the faculty, toured a computer programming class that was in session, and then ended in the gym for an academic pep rally honoring over 500 honor roll students.

The President’s first question to me was “Do you by any chance have a stick of gum?” He also gave me sets of autographed golf balls for my husband and father after asking about my own success with golf – I don’t!  At the end of the pep rally he said, “I think your students would enjoy seeing you kissed on the cheek, OK?”  and he did!

President Bush’s final words were, “I won’t forget this visit.” I certainly will not.

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