Memories of Mikail Gorbachev’s Visit
By Ken Baxter
It was the 27th of March in 2009, and it was a huge day for the campus. We had a number of people on campus. Probably in all my years at Eureka that was the most excitement I have seen. I think he arrived sometime around ten or eleven o’clock in the morning, and he came down College Avenue, and everybody turned out to meet him. President Arnold and his senior staff were there to meet him, and there were students all around. It was a huge crowd. He walked up to Burrus Dickinson and through the building to the Reagan Peace Garden. Then he went to the Cerf Center, and people were trying to get close enough to see him. At the Cerf center he did an impromptu news conference We had set up a microphone and a podium there for him to use. Then he had a private tour of the museum and was escorted down the hall to the President’s Dining Room. All the time there were people walking along trying to see him.
Then we took him over to Reagan Field House for the convocation. The place was crowded with students and people from the community. I don’t remember how the tickets were handled, but the gym looked great, nothing like it normally looks. It startled everyone, and I heard some exclaim, “Wow, is this the gym?” We had a great convocation. He followed up by answering some questions from students. These had been already approved in advance.
Later in the evening we went to Peoria for another big program at the Peoria Civic Center. That was very well attended — I would estimate fifteen hundred. The program really had little to do with the college. We also hosted a high school event at a lower level of the Civic Center. We invited high school students to hear speakers talk about Gorbachev. Then we brought all of the high school students to the back of the room upstairs. One thing that jumped out to me about the day was the security. I am sure there was more security than even when the President of the United States was here. I was involved with the security, and I visited with Eureka Chief of Police Misener, who said that we had paid money to a multi-county swat team, which is made up of officers from different local governments, excluding the city of Peoria which has its own swat team. Eureka didn’t have enough officers to provide security for this event since the police force is small. Chief Misener lined up the team, but he ended up with twice as many officers as he needed which was fine because we weren’t paying for it. The officers wanted to be a part of this occasion.
Gorbachev came with an entourage of about six people. His interpreter stood right beside him. The owner of his booking agency came, and I think there was a member of his family. I think about two of the people were security. They were wearing suits. There were no visible guns.
I was introduced to him, and I had my photograph taken with him. Unfortunately I have misplaced the picture. It was taken in the Terrell Room of the Cerf Center. He was very personable. He talked to me a little bit. He also talked to Mark Pasteris. This was in 2009, and there had been an economic downturn in basically every country in the world. He asked CFO Mark Pasteris how the economic conditions were affecting the college. I thought that was interesting. And he spoke directly to Mark and not through his interpreter. Mostly, though, he spoke in Russian and his interpreter would translate what he said in English.
Gornachev’s visit was one of the better days at Eureka College in the twenty-two years that I have been here because there was so much excitement. Classes were canceled to give all the students a chance to see him.