Virginia Ruffulo of Medford, left, and other Democrats watching the inauguration on a projected television screen at the Medford party headquarters react with tears and cheers as Barack Obama takes the oath of office Tuesday. - Bob Pennell

'This country needed this'

Carlton Olison had to sit in the back of the bus as a child, never imagining a day would come when someone like Barack Obama could be sworn in as president of the United States.

"I never thought I would see it, or the space shuttle," said the 55-year-old Central Point resident. "Not in my lifetime. It says a lot about the country."

Olison, who was born in Virginia when blacks were segregated from whites, joined more than 150 jubilant Jackson County residents at the Democratic headquarters in Medford to celebrate Obama's inauguration Tuesday morning.

When the new president strode out of the U.S. Capitol to take the oath of office, the Medford crowd chanted, "Obama, Obama."

Denise Cyr, who helped spearhead the local Obama campaign, shouted, "Yes, we did. We're official."

There were jeers in the audience when Bush arrived near the podium, and cheers when it was announced he was no longer the president.

When Michelle Obama walked out in a yellow dress by designer Isabel Toledo, one man remarked, "She looks good." Onlookers gushed over the "cute" and "stylish" Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha.

When conservative pastor Rick Warren gave his invocation, he was initially booed, then audience members remained quiet and appeared accepting of his remarks.

However, when Aretha Franklin sang "America" after the invocation, one woman said, "Now, there's someone with real faith."

After Obama gave his inaugural address, many supporters at the Democratic headquarters wept, cheered or hugged each other.

"I thought it was one of his better speeches," said Charles Garner, a 49-year-old White City resident. "I know one thing," he said. "This is history and this country needed this."

With the economy in shambles, the country at war on two fronts and millions out of work, Garner said the president faces daunting challenges.

"He's got some pretty big shoes right now that he's got to fill," he said.

Margaret Bassett said the new president covered everything she had hoped for in his speech.

"He's a great speaker — a great orator," said the 74-year-old Talent resident.

As soon as the speech ended, Dean Grandell shouted out that the new president should receive an "A-plus."

"It was energizing, hopeful and almost defiantly hopeful," said the 57-year-old Medford resident.

With a hat that had the words "impeach Cheney" emblazoned on it, Grandell said Obama is not as progressive as he would like, but acknowledged the new president appears to be more interested in uniting now than dividing.

"He wants to be a world family rather than being a loose cannon," he said.

For many, Obama showed how far the country has come since the civil rights movement. During his speech, the president said he was "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant (but) can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

For Olison, those words resonated with his own history.

As a child, he accepted as a way of life that he and other blacks had to sit at the back of the bus.

His family went to Japan during his father's military service; they returned to an America convulsed by civil unrest and the oratory of Martin Luther King.

"When we came back here in the '60s, Kennedy got shot and there was the whole civil rights movement," he said.

Before joining the Marines for 24 years, Olison delivered the Oakland Tribune in Oakland, Calif., on a bicycle. One day Sen. Robert Kennedy made a campaign stop in the city during his presidential run.

"I broke through the crowd with my hand and he shook it," remembered Olison. "He said, 'I'm going to make things better for you.' "

Shortly after that chance encounter in 1968, Kennedy was assassinated.

After witnessing what he described as a historical moment Monday, Olison said, "At least now when my grandkids grow up, you can tell them you can be president of the United States."

Reach Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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