Memories of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Visit

Ken Baxter

March 27, 2009. It was a big day on the Eureka College campus. The campus was buzzing with people, it was the most excitement I have seen in all my years at the college. Mikhail Gorbachev arrived sometime around 10 or 11 that morning. President Arnold and his senior staff were there to meet him and there were students all around; classes were cancelled to give students a chance to see him. Gorbachev walked through Burrus Dickinson Hall to the Reagan Peace Garden. Then he went to the Cerf Center for a news conference, the entire time people were trying to get close enough to see him. After that, Gorbachev had a private tour of the museum and was escorted down the hall to the President’s Dining Room; the crowd of people stayed with him, hoping to see him.

The convocation was held in the Reagan Center . 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. Almost everyone noticed, and I heard some exclaim, “Wow, is this the gym?” We had a great convocation and Gorbachev followed up by answering pre-approved questions from students. Later that night, we went to Peoria for another program at the Peoria Civic Center, not related to the college. That too was s very well attended,I would estimate 1,500 people. The college also hosted an event for high school students on another floor of the Civic Center. We invited students to hear speakers talk about Gorbachev and then we brought all of them to the back of the room upstairs.

One thing that jumps out at me about that day was the security. I am sure there was more security that day than 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 we paid money for 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. It included his interpreter, who stood right beside him, the owner of his booking agency and I think there was a member of his family. I think the other two people were security. They were wearing suits, but there were no visible guns.

I was introduced to him and had my photograph taken with him. Unfortunately, I have misplaced the picture. It was taken in the Terrill Room of the Cerf Center. Gorbachev was very personable. He talked to me for a little bit and with Eureka College CFO Marc Pasteris. This was in 2009, and there had been an economic downturn in basically every country in the world. He asked Marc how the economic conditions were affecting the college. I thought that was interesting. He spoke directly to Marc and not through his interpreter. Mostly though, he spoke in Russian and his interpreter would translate what he said in English.

Gorbachev’s visit was one of the better days at Eureka College in the 22 years I have been here because there was so much excitement.

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