Ely man's note aims high -- and gets reply from Obama

  • Article by: CURT BROWN
  • Star Tribune
  • January 21, 2013 - 11:12 PM

Talk about a power pen pal.

When Gerry Snyder opened Post Office Box 270 up in Ely last August, he was delighted and shocked to find a handwritten, 117-word letter sent from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to "the town at the end of the road."

On a whim, Snyder had sent the White House a request last spring, asking the commander in chief to contribute a note for inclusion in a time capsule marking the 50th anniversary of the Ely-Winton Historical Society.

Four months later, President Obama apologized for taking so long to respond:

"I hope it's not too late to send greetings to the town of Ely. Fifty years from now ... I hope that we have managed the balance between our energy needs and our need to preserve the planet so that the wilderness surrounding Ely remains as spectacular as you describe it."

As Obama was sworn in for a second term Monday, Snyder said the letter remains heartwarming -- a good thing on a 20-below-zero morning.

"It was a universal yet personal letter, and I didn't know he'd pick mine out of probably thousands he gets," said Snyder, 78. "I was quite surprised and amazed that he took time out and wrote out in long hand and sent it to me."

Snyder grew up on the East Coast, served as a White House Fellow in the 1960s during the Johnson administration and has retired as a financial consultant. According to the Federal Elections Commission, he donated more than $4,000 to Obama's presidential campaigns. He proudly acknowledges voting for Obama twice.

"I admire him very much and have no compunctions about supporting him in any way I can," said Snyder, who bought an island in Burntside Lake 20 years ago. After several summers Up North, he and his wife, Nan, moved to Ely full time a few years ago.

When the historical society started talking about how to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Snyder suggested a time capsule and offered to write Obama. Here's what he wrote -- "I kept it short and sweet" -- that caught the president's eye:

"Dear Mr. President,

I live in a town of 3,400 people. Writer Charles Kuralt referred to Ely, Minnesota, as the town at the end of the road because beyond the town there is a roadless, majestic wilderness of more than a million acres. ... Mr. President, the town would be thrilled to have you contribute a note (sealed or unsealed) for the time capsule expressing your hopes for the next five decades."

Obama's reply

"I hope that the technology that has shrunk the globe leads to greater understanding between people rather than chronic conflict," the president said. "And I hope that America remains a shining example of those ideals I believe are universal and that our Founders fought for so many years ago."

This spring, Obama's response will go into an above-ground brick wall at the Fine Arts Building at Vermilion Community College. The time capsule, which will include children's letters, local newspapers and real estate guides, is to be opened in 2063.

Curt Brown • 612-673-4767

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