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Hudson family has unique inauguration experience

Mark and Jamie Callies of Hudson didn't attend any of the official inauguration ceremonies on Jan. 20 but the event is still something they will always remember.

The Callies had tickets to the swearing-in ceremony but had decided to give them away before they ever left Hudson. The couple's son, Corey, is a member of the Navy's Ceremonial Guard and as such would be participating in the day's festivities.

The family had four tickets but decided to give two of them to Meg Higgenbotham, the wife of the guard commander, and the other two to a nephew and his friend who were big Obama supporters.

"It just seemed like the thing to do. Meg does so much for those kids. We wanted to do something for her. And my nephew and his friend were so excited about it. We knew they really wanted to be there and we were happy to do it," said Jamie.

But even though they had given away their tickets, the couple still went to Washington for the event. The Callies heard from Higgenbotham that the 300 Navy guardsmen would all be together for the last-minute preparations the day before the inauguration. When they asked if there was anything they could do to help, Higgenbotham said they could pick up some snacks to go along with the box lunches the guards would be served.

When Jamie Callies told her husband, he said he thought they could do better than that. They decided to provide both breakfast and food for the rest of the day. To help with the expense of feeding 300 hungry 18-24-year-olds, the Callies contacted family and friends who donated money and food gift cards for the effort.

The couple flew into Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18, rented two SUVs and then headed for Sam's Club to pick up provisions. They also had gift cards to Dunkin' Donuts and Subway.

Higgenbotham remembers the call she got from Jamie spelling out what they intended to do. "When she said they wanted to provide food, I was thinking she meant a couple of dozen cookies or some snacks, but when she told me what they had in mind, I couldn't believe the generosity of it."

The couple arrived where the guard was gathered at 7 a.m., unloaded the food and continued to serve hungry sailors throughout the day.

"We were happy to do it," said Jamie. "We're so proud of Corey. It was kind of our way of showing that."

The food was provided for the Support Group of the Navy Ceremonial Guard, a sort of booster club for the unit, according to Higgenbotham.

Stranger turned friend

There were several unexpected things that happened on the Callies' trip to D.C. On their plane ride out, they overheard an African-American man in front of them saying he was going to the inauguration.

"He didn't have a ticket and didn't know exactly how he was going to get there, but he was determined. Mark and I decided to offer him a ride to his hotel. He was a fascinating man and this was an event he just wasn't going to miss," said Jamie.

The man, Philip Pina, a teacher and retired military and postal worker from Oklahoma, said he was heading to the Capitol the next morning and was going to camp out on his senator's door until he got a ticket. Since the Callies were headed in that direction to feed the troops, they offered him another ride. They also arranged to pick him up at the end of the day and return him to his hotel. They were happy when he told them he'd gotten a ticket.

But the next morning, Pina heard that his son, who was driving to Washington to pick him up after the ceremony, had been in an accident. He was all right but Pina ended up not being able to go to the inauguration after all.

"Philip was really a man on a mission to see this day in history. He had lived his whole life for this moment and he came so close and it slipped away from him because of his son's accident. His outlook on it was that it was all part of the plan. He is a remarkable veteran and teacher. He couldn't wait to get back home to share his stories with his students," said Jamie.

"I felt so bad, but he was philosophical about it. He reminded us of Martin Luther King's speech the night before he died when he told people he had seen the Promised Land, that he might not get there with them but that someday they would. Pina said that was kind of how he felt. 'I'm happy to have gotten as far as I did,' he said. We were so impressed by him. He was a very special part of the trip we won't ever forget," said Jamie.

Jamie said being with Pina reminded her of her childhood in California and a dream her mother had.

"My parents raised me and my five siblings in an all African-American community in California, believing that we could all live in harmony. Those were some rough times -- the late '60s, early '70s when Dr. King and the Malcolm X movement were in full swing. It was tough being the only white kids at school. But I remember that the African-Americans just wanted to be treated equally; not special, just equal.

"They didn't quite know what to think of the white kids when we arrived at school and vice versa. I was in the first grade when we moved to the neighborhood. It didn't take long and we all learned to accept each other and embrace our differences. My dad has since passed away but I am glad my mom could see her dream come true. I think we still have work to do, but we are turning the corner."

A mother's memory

The other inauguration tickets went to the Callies' nephew Joe Brommer and his friend Justin Henry, both college students interested in politics. Jamie said no one knew that Henry's mother, who had breast cancer, had died unexpectedly the day before the inauguration.

"He wasn't going to attend, but his dad insisted," said Jamie. "They postponed the funeral so he could live the dream for his mother. He didn't want any of us in D.C. to know and feel sorry for him. He is just a college kid with his whole life ahead of him. I think it was brave of him to do what he did."

The only down side to the Callies' trip was the absence of son Cody, a junior at HHS who is a Rotary exchange student in Russia - Siberia, to be exact.

"He would have loved to have gone to D.C. to see his brother and see all the historic events. He was really sad he missed it all. I guess he was in about the only place colder than D.C. that day."

Jamie Callies said she and her husband voted for John McCain in the election, but they were nonetheless glad to be part of historic events at this inauguration.

"Regardless of who we supported, we love our country and want the president to do well. It was just a great privilege to be there and see the hope and enthusiasm people were feeling. No matter what else you believe, we are all Americans."

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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