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Column: Letter illustrates presidential values


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Then-President Bill Clinton signs a program for Columbus businessman Ken DeLap, left, as a secret service agent looks on during a visit by Clinton to Indianapolis. DeLap had met and expressed support for Clinton at an earlier gathering in Indianapolis in 1989  when the future president was the governor of Arkansas.
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Then-President Bill Clinton signs a program for Columbus businessman Ken DeLap, left, as a secret service agent looks on during a visit by Clinton to Indianapolis. DeLap had met and expressed support for Clinton at an earlier gathering in Indianapolis in 1989 when the future president was the governor of Arkansas. SUBMITTED PHOTO


Meeting a president of the United States is not all that unusual. They shake hands with a lot of people.

Getting a letter from a president of the United States isn’t all that rare either. Thousands are sent out each week from the White House over a presidential signature.

What’s unusual is meeting and getting a letter from a president of the United States before he becomes president, before most of the nation even knew he was running.

Meet Mr. Unusual, Columbus retiree Ken DeLap. His president is Bill Clinton, who served two terms in the Oval Office from 1993 to 2001 and is still considered one of the most popular Democrats in the country.

The local man’s relationship with the 42nd president began before Clinton’s election in 1992. He came to meet and express support for the former Arkansas governor before anyone of political note was even discussing him as a potential candidate for the White House.

Ken, a strong Democrat, was first drawn to Clinton in 1989 when the latter made an appearance on one of the Sunday morning television talk shows.

“He was governor of Arkansas then, but he really wasn’t very well known outside the state,” Ken recalled last week. “The panel peppered him with all kinds of tough questions, the kind that would make a lot of politicians stammer and get flustered, but he fielded them flawlessly.”

At the time, the owner of SIECO in Columbus filed Clinton’s performance in his memory, vowing to himself that should the personable Arkansan seek higher office, he would give him his support.

Later that year, the Columbus businessman attended the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Indianapolis hosted by the state Democratic party. Clinton was one of the featured speakers.

“I was able to get into one of those private receptions before the dinner,” Ken remembered. “I looked around the room and saw Gov. Clinton standing off to the side by himself. It was as if no one knew who he was.

“I just walked up, introduced myself and said that I had seen him on the Sunday morning program and was so impressed that should he run for president he would have my support.”

Ken can’t remember the future president’s response, and they went their separate ways after a few more minutes of conversation. A few days later he received an official-looking letter from the governor of Arkansas.

The first paragraph expressed enjoyment at their meeting the previous month. The second was pure boiler-plate material about working together to strengthen the party.

It was the third paragraph that demonstrated to Ken why the governor of Arkansas would be elected president more than three years later.

“Thanks for the offer to show me around Columbus. I hope I will be able to take you up on that sometime. Please give my best to Evan (Evan Bayh, who was then governor of Indiana).”

That paragraph sealed the deal in Ken’s mind. The Arkansas governor’s attention to detail in recalling the offer to tour a small town in southern Indiana was all Ken needed to affirm his earlier opinion of the “man from Hope.” That’s Hope as in the Arkansas town where the future president was born.

In a way it also serves as an object lesson to any one who enters public life. Hopes, abilities and philosophies are certainly important, but taking the time to personally acknowledge others can not only get their vote but their admiration.

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