Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Spirits high in overflowed crowd

“I think we need a bigger boat,” quipped Barack Obama, smiling broadly at the overflow crowd of more than a thousand at DU’s Barton Lacrosse Stadium.

The crowd cheered, apparently not minding that they weren’t able to squeeze into the packed Ritchie Center to hear Obama’s address. Campaign staffers had predicted that the Democratic hopeful would visit the overflow area and he did just that, aiming about two minutes of comments to those standing outside.

“I wanted everybody out here to know you weren’t just hearing a tape-recorded message,” Obama told the crowd. “I’m sorry we couldn’t accommodate all of you.”

Obama pledged to tackle global warming, unemployment and education and he  repeated his vision of unifying the nation.

“We’re gonna go change the country,” he said.

That was inspiring to Gwen Vann, a Jefferson County elementary school teacher from Thornton who took the day off to attend the rally.

“I left my kindergartners with a sub so I could see Obama,” she said.

The trip had been tough. Vann left her home in Thornton at 6:45 a.m. only to sit in traffic at the University Boulevard exit of I-25 for an hour. By the time she found a parking space eight blocks from campus and hiked to the Ritchie Center it was too late to get inside.

Vann tried to wheedle entry by offering a security officer all the money she had in her pocket – 37 cents. But it didn’t work, she laughed.

So, Vann stood outside in the chill morning air and waited for the speech to be piped outside through the stadium’s public address system.

“I really believe we need a change,” Vann said. “We’ve been divided way too long. We have to put race and religion and education and social economic status on the back burner and come together as a human race.”

Obama’s speech was to have begun at 10 a.m., but at that hour two long lines snaked outside the Ritchie Center, one west on Buchtel, south on High Street and east on Asbury Avenue nearly to the Stapleton Tennis Pavilion.

A second line stretched south along the east side of the tennis courts. It turned east along Asbury, ducked into and out of the service alley behind the Ritchie Center, then continued to University Boulevard, where it turned north for another half block.

At 10 a.m. the last person in the eastern line was 84-year-old Ted Rowe of Denver, a retired insurance man who voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt the first time he cast a presidential ballot. Rowe said he’s voted for Clinton and for Bush in the past but now is interested in Obama.

“I think he’s a little more charismatic and intelligent and a little more open than the rest of them,” Rowe said, adding he preferred Obama to Hillary Clinton.

“If Bill weren’t around it would be a lot better,” he said. 

Second-last in line was Tammy Evans, a 28-year-old higher education adviser, who called Obama a fresh face. 

“He looks pretty cool on TV. We’ve been most intrigued by Obama and Ron Paul. I think I like who Obama is from what I’ve seen so far. We could use someone who has a different world view.”

But there was plenty of hero worship as well. One 6-year-old outside with her mother demanded to know why she couldn’t get Obama’s autograph. A college student was thrilled by the celebrity alone.

“I’m so happy I saw [Obama],” he gushed to a friend. “I think he smiled right at me!”   

Read about Obama’s speech inside Magness Arena.

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