Trip stirred 'whole lot of emotions rolled into one'

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 21, 2009 - 10:34 PM
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Anne Stoefen of Hudson, Wis., was a special inauguration guest.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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WASHINGTON, DC. -- Anne Stoefen boarded a jet home to Minneapolis early Wednesday, exhausted and giddy. Like many other visitors to the inauguration, she wore a button that said, "I was there." But Stoefen means it. Really, really means it.

The Hudson, Wis., resident was one of 41 people from across the country to be the invited guests of the Obama family, starting last weekend. She and her father and three sisters rode the inauguration train with President Obama and his family, stood near the Capitol during the oath of office and danced alongside the Obamas at their first inaugural ball.

"It was just an unbelievable experience," she said.

The trip brought feelings of both "excitement and sadness," said the 32-year-old Minneapolis VA hospital nurse. "A whole lot of emotions rolled into one."

Her mother, Beth Wehrman, was one of Obama's earliest supporters. Wehrman died of pancreatic cancer Oct. 14 -- hours after casting an absentee ballot for Obama.

A registered nurse, Wehrman, of LeClaire, Iowa, had met Obama several years ago. She had worked with HIV patients and founded a non-profit drug needle exchange program just across the border in Illinois. She campaigned for Obama through much of the exhaustion and nausea of her illness.

"She really, really believed in him," Stoefen said. Obama's presidency "was something my mom really wanted to see."

Obama had been in touch with Wehrman's family during her illness. On Saturday, when they saw the Obamas on the train, their emotions poured out. Michelle Obama got teary with them, Stoefen said.

Later, Michelle Obama personally served passengers her birthday cake -- chocolate with cream cheese frosting.

"She did not cut, like, these weenie little pieces." Stoefen smiled. "They were, like, big chunks of cake."

Someone asked Michelle if she was going to eat some and she said no, because she had to fit into her ball gown, Stoefen said.

Tuesday night, Stoefen and her sisters accompanied their dad to the Neighborhood Ball, the first stop for the new president and First Lady. After the Obamas danced, he called the special guests to the stage. The president gave Stoefen and others a kiss on the cheek.

"'OK, everybody, let's dance,''' Stoefen said the president told them. Soon, they were all swaying to "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

"He was getting down," she said.

When Stoefen got home Wednesday, she showed her husband and 7-year-old twins her photos. And she danced to "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" with the children.

"You know, I'm still pinching myself," she said.

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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