SOUTHERN INDIANA – Kelli Metzger couldn’t believe her eyes, but there it was in the mail: A personalized letter from then-President George H.W. Bush.
Kelli remembers receiving the letter like it was yesterday, although it happened more than 25 years ago.
“Our assignment was to write President Bush regarding how we thought the country was doing. This would have been around 1990-1991,” she recalled.
“I just remember being blown away when I received his letter. Not everyone in the class received a follow-up letter, but I did.”
She was 10, and the words she had penned to him were personal and heartfelt.
Kelli disagreed with Operation Desert Storm, and she told the president so in her letter.
“I told him about how I lost my father at age 4, and it was the hardest thing I had to ever go through,” she said, talking about the passing of her dad, Ronald Graver, who owned the old Wise Owl food marts in Jeffersonville and Clarksville.
“I told him it saddened me to think that other children could potentially lose their mother, father, brother, sister, etc., to war. I told him I would grow up to be a nurse to help care for people in hopes that I could save someone else’s loved one in their time of need.”
In response, President Bush spoke from his heart as well.
“His letter acknowledged my opinion. But, what made the letter stand out was the fact he acknowledge my heartache of losing someone I loved,” Kelli said. “He referenced how he lost someone he loved dearly.”
In retrospect, she thinks she now might know who he was talking about.
“I believe he was referring to his daughter that he lost in my letter,” Kelli said, referencing how George and Barbara Bush lost their daughter Robin to leukemia when she was 3.
“I just recall the letter being extremely sincere,” she said.
As the years passed, Kelli unfortunately lost that letter during a move. But, she did fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse as she told him she would do.
Kelli never met President Bush in person, but she always held a special place in her heart for the author of that poignant message she received.
“Because of that letter, I have always had the utmost respect for President Bush,” Kelli said.
As the world mourns the passing of Bush this week, another Southern Indiana resident is also remembering his personal connection to the 41st president.
Andrew Takami of Floyds Knobs met Bush in person at an Indianapolis event when he was a 19-year-old college student.
However, like Kelli, Andrew’s respect for President Bush developed during his childhood.
Andrew, who is now the director of Purdue Polytechnic New Albany, didn’t collect baseball cards as a young boy.
Instead, Andrew said he collected special Operation Desert Storm trading cards.
His prize possessions from that series: The ones featuring George H.W. Bush.
“I was so enamored with him and collecting his cards,” Andrew said, sharing how he went to local stores in Southern Indiana trying to get as many cards as possible – and always hoping he’d get another President Bush card.
Even today, Andrew still holds tight to those memories, as he’s kept a binder filled with the cards featuring Bush and all the key leaders from the first Gulf War he collected.
To Andrew, Bush embodied everything right and noble in the world. Bush was a real-life superhero in his eyes.
“He was my man; Saddam Hussein was not,” he said.
That’s why Andrew was ecstatic to meet his role model there in Indianapolis on March 31, 1999.
He remembers Bush as being "reserved, quiet. He was not an outgoing guy" – but that was just fine with Andrew.
He said it was evident Bush took his presidential role with the utmost seriousness. "He had served his country all of his life," he said. "He respected the position and showed honor to it."
As the years went by, Andrew kept Bush at the forefront of his mind. He and his wife Ann even invited George and Barbara to their wedding 13 years ago.
While the couple wasn't expecting a response, they actually received one. It was from the Bushes sending their regrets they could not attend. He still has that card.
As he dug through his keepsakes Tuesday afternoon looking for more items to share, Andrew was sad he wasn't able to find his photo with President Bush. But, he did find his ticket to the event where he met his hero. He also found that binder with his Desert Storm collector cards.
As he reminisced about what Bush meant to his life over the years, Andrew shared how the president set a strong example for him to be an honorable man, a dedicated leader and a committed American.
"I just have a lot of respect for George H. W. Bush," Andrew said. "He was definitely an inspiration to me."