With that opening statement, President Barack Obama began his backyard discussion this past Wednesday at Drake University Athletic Director Sandy Hatfield Clubb’s home in front of a small gathering including many faculty, students and administrators.
Passing near a large Drake Bulldogs flag to enter their home, he was greeted at the front door by the entire Clubb family including Sandy, husband Jeff and children, Skyler and Tristan.
“We tried to not act like deer in the headlights,” Clubb said laughing. “We tried to act like this happened all the time.”
In the 10 minutes of private time they shared together, the Clubb family and the president discussed sports, families, education and Drake.
“He was great about asking how the Bulldogs are doing this year,” Clubb said. “We also talked about the president’s children, Sasha and Malia.”
In this time, Clubb and her family presented the president with several gifts. Along with a specially tailored ‘Distinctly Drake’ brochure, Sandy handed the president the three-year strategic plan for Drake Athletics.
“I’ve been joking that he’ll probably put that right next to his strategic plan for Afghanistan,” Clubb said.
The Clubb family was alerted at 5:45 p.m. the Thursday prior to the event that the president would be at their house the following week. By 6 p.m. that day, White House staff, the lead of the Secret Service and about 10 other people were already in their home.
“It was a privilege and an honor to be asked as an American citizen to host the president,” Clubb said. “We were proud to host him.”
After their time together, the president and the Clubb family moved outside for the backyard chat.
The president recognized the men’s basketball head coach, Mark Phelps, and asked specifically how the basketball team was doing this year.
“That was really cool,” Clubb said of the backyard speech. “We had 13 of our 14 head coaches there, and he said ‘Go Bulldogs’ several times.” After applause, the president joked, “I still know how to work a crowd.”
Juniors Tom Lehn and Clara Haneberg, were just two of a group of Drake students present.
“The part I enjoyed the most was how thoroughly he answered everyone’s questions,” Lehn said. “It felt as if he came to Iowa to listen to people and to get a good gauge for how his policies were coming across and see what he could do to make things better.”
Tough questions were asked of the president in the relaxed backyard chat. Guests were concerned about the war in Afghanistan, poverty and perceived changes involving healthcare reform.
The president answered most questions for several minutes, and in great depth.
“He spoke off the top of his head, but from his heart,” Lehn described.
Clara Haneberg was impressed with the president’s recognition of the university.
“It got a lot of great attention for Drake,” Haneberg said. “I don’t think people understand just how awesome Iowa is for elections.”
Haneberg and Lehn were both thanked by the president for their service as microphone runners in the backyard.
“Having the most important person in the country thank you for volunteering is really exciting,” Haneberg said.
The Clubb family enjoyed every minute of it, even Tristan and Skyler.
“The kids loved it,” Clubb said referring to 11-year-old Tristan and 9-year-old Skyler. “They were just terrific. They’re rock stars at school now.”
So how does it feel to have the president as your houseguest?
“It was surreal,” Clubb said. “I leaned over to my husband at one point and whispered, ‘That’s the President of the United States in our backyard. He has such a warm personality that you feel very comfortable in his presence.”
Within almost an hour after the event, the media circus and White House staff had cleaned up and left little trace of their presence.
“If I woke up the next morning without the chairs in our backyard, I would’ve thought the whole thing was a dream,” Clubb said.
Photo: Drake University