More than a dozen head to Washington to see milestone

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ralph Temple couldn't stop the tears from flowing down his cheeks as he sat watching President Barack Obama take the oath of office Tuesday.

For Temple, 76, a retired civil rights lawyer who was at John F. Kennedy's inaugural ceremony in 1961 and at Martin Luther King Jr.'s memorable "I Have a Dream" speech for racial equality in 1963, the swearing-in of the nation's first black president represented a milestone he never thought he would witness.

"When he finished taking that oath and the band played 'Hail to the Chief,' I wept," said the Ashland resident. "It was the most amazing political event of my lifetime. ... There has been nothing to match this. It was transformational."

Temple, a former director of litigation for the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington, D.C., chapter, was one of more than a dozen people from Jackson County attending the inaugural. They were among the estimated 1 million-plus people gathered on the two-mile-long National Mall, where they listened and watched the ceremony on big-screen televisions.

"This is a pilgrimage for me," Temple said.

Like Tuesday's crowd, those gathered at the JFK inaugural were very upbeat and enthusiastic, he recalled.

"But it was nothing like this," he said by cell phone shortly after Obama's inauguration ceremony. "This far exceeds anything I've seen. There is an electricity and vibrancy in the crowd. It is in the air.

"The Martin Luther King speech was dynamic, one of inspiration," he said. "President Obama's was one of jubilation. This is an achievement. This is a journey's completion. I feel now that we are unified as Americans, that we are a great people. It has been a long time since I've felt that way."

Bradley Arkens, 17, the son of Kimberly Arkens of Central Point and a member of the Young Marines of Southern Oregon, was standing near the Reflecting Pool on the mall during the ceremony.

"Obama made history — I wanted (Sen. John) McCain to win but I was clapping for Obama," he said. "I hope he does great things."

But Arkens, a junior and honor student at Cascade Christian High School in Medford, expressed disappointment at many in the crowd as they watched the ceremony on huge television screens.

"When Bush came on, they booed him," he said, noting they should have shown respect for the office and Bush's service. "That was very disappointing to me."

He had been at the mall since 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, waiting more than five hours for the peaceful transition of power. With the wind chill, he said the temperature felt like it was 10 to 15 degrees.

"It was cold but it was an honor to be at the inauguration representing Oregon," he said.

His inauguration experience was topped off with a ticket to attend the Gala Ball in the Smithsonian Institution Tuesday night.

Former Jackson County Commissioner Stewart McCollom, 80, and his wife, Anne, the niece of former Oregon Republican Gov. Tom McCall, watched the ceremony from the seated section about 400 yards in front of Obama.

"It was a very emotional experience for me," McCollom said after the ceremony. "We have three grandchildren. Over the years, when they reach age eight, we have brought them all to D.C. During all that time, I've been hoping that the government of ours would shape up. It didn't.

"But now we have hope this nation is going to survive," he added.

The noise fluctuated from being overwhelming to dead silent when Obama spoke, he said.

"The noise was so deafening, police vehicles, honking, sirens, helicopters flying overhead," he said. "The contrast of almost thunder from a million voices hollering and cheering, followed by absolute silence, that was amazing. He held the crowd in the palm of his hand."

The mass of humanity represented the broad spectrum of the nation's population, McCollom said.

"You saw everything from people wearing fur coats to people who looked like they had been sleeping under a bridge," he said. "But the crowd sort of became one. People were just happy to be there. People were talking to total strangers."

Medford resident Joe Suste, who described himself as "over 60," was near the Washington Monument about a half mile from where Obama was speaking.

"I knew this was going to be the center of the universe today — I wanted to be part of that," he said, later adding, "This is an event that will never happen again. We will never again have a black president for the first time."

Beyond the historic significance, Suste also wanted to see someone else lead the nation.

"I've been looking forward to a change in administrations for the last eight years," he said. "I'm looking forward to seeing an administration that is inclusive of all people and all parties — Republicans, Democrats, independents, everyone."

Obama's speech inspired him, he said.

"Instead of telling us to be afraid, he told us to be hopeful and optimistic," Suste said. "He told us that if we work hard, we can get out of the spot we're in. He also extended a hand to the world, instead of saying 'you are with us or against us.'

"It was a fabulous speech," he concluded.

Medford area resident Tiffany Ann McCormack, 30, a student at Southern Oregon University, also found a spot near the Washington Monument.

Like Brad Arkens, she didn't appreciated the crowd booing when Bush made an appearance on one of the big screens.

"But Obama's speech was amazing," she said. "He has a lot of foresight. His ability to reach out to so many people will help him do a lot of good for our country.

"Everybody was so excited when he spoke," she added. "If we all didn't have mittens on, our clapping would have been a lot louder."

Ashland resident Mike Rogan, 49, and his wife, Mary, and their children, Grace, 14, and Bryce, 12, arrived at the ceremony after following Obama's train trip from Philadelphia.

They were there in Wilmington, Del., when Obama met then Vice President-elect Joseph Biden.

"We were only about 120 feet away — it was wonderful," said Rogan, a business, English and social studies teacher at Crater High School in Central Point.

When they arrived for the inaugural, they had tickets for the Capitol side of the Reflecting Pool.

"The crush of humanity was unbelievable but the people were awesome," he said. "Obama's speech was quite stirring. I'm hoping to share some of that with my students. No political agenda, just the message that we all need to step up and make a difference."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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