Presidential Party


By Sam Garfield

Jan 12, 1958

(Union Stock Yards)—World peace. Russian muscle. And a chorus line of Sputniks in space. Daily worries for Ike. But not last night in the Stock Yards.

President Eisenhower and Mamie were the proud guests of honor as Illinois Republicans filled Donovan Hall in the International Amphitheatre. Nearly six thousand strong, they ate beef, smoked big cigars and toasted Ike. Oh yes, they also dished out $100-a-plate for the experience. “Oh, it’s worth it,” Mrs. Mame Mason Higgins, the coordinator for South Side Republican Women’s Activities, told me as she adjusted her mink stole. “How often do you get a chance to eat with the President of the United States? And Mrs. Eisenhower, isn’t she just delightful?”

Mamie indeed was the belle of the ball, up there on the raised dais with all the dignitaries. She wore a sequins-covered hat, gleaming diamond bracelet and sparkling blue cocktail dress. Patrons –most were practically a football field away from the head table– used opera glasses to check out their favorite Republican. The people who were really far away watched the goings-on at the dais from closed circuit TV projected on giant screens along three walls of Donovan Hall. They saw a young and handsome Chuck Percy, seated next to Ike. Percy, who lives on the North Shore, heads the Illinois Republican Citizens Finance Committee and is president of Bell & Howell. Percy –P-E-R-C-Y. Remember the name. People tell me we’ll see much more of him in the near future. Next to Mamie sat Senator Everett Dirksen, who tried all night to keep other GOP suitors from cutting in on his talk with the First Lady. The Senator kept his arm around Mamie’s chair as they both sang along to Dinah Shore’s rendition of America the Beautiful. Robert Galvin, president of the United Republican Fund of Illinois, head of Motorola Inc., and chairman of the big party, sat alongside Governor William Stratton. The six thousand diners could also look at the monster television screens and watch Cook County State’s Attorney Ben Adamowski enjoy his prime rib; watch James Worthy, another United Republican Fund of Illinois big shot, sip coffee; and see Lieutenant Colonel William Arnold of the 5th Army dig into an ice cream sundae. The people on the big screens, enjoying the best the Stock Yards had to offer, are, make no mistake, part of the national future of the Republican Party.

You’ve probably already guessed that not too much news came from this dinner party. Ike did speak, though. He appeared tired but upbeat. He restated his New Year’s offering to the Russians: “…be assured that the government of the United States will work tirelessly to bring a firmer and better understanding between the people of the U.S and Russia.”

After the speech, I caught up with Percy, who was smiling his way and table-hopping through the big crowd.

“You campaigning or just enjoying yourself?” I asked.

“Sam, what are you doing here? Don’t you have a deadline or something?”

“Chuck, I noticed you had the President’s attention–“

“Wrong, Sam. He had my attention. Now, how can I help you?”

“What’s on his mind these days?”

“Everything. He talked a lot about the need to improve our education in America. He also touched on national security and the need to be a leader in space. It’s amazing how much energy he has. Thanks, Sam.”

With that, he was off to another table.

I took the cue and made my way out. Once in the night air, away from the animal coats and sequins, I decided to stop at Schaller’s Pump, one of my favorite spots in the 11th ward, to have a pick-me-up and balance my reporting with a few quotes from the Dems.

I got nowhere, though. The boys at the bar didn’t care about my dinner with Ike and Chuck and Everett. Only when I mentioned Dinah Shore, did I have their attention.

“Really, what’s she like?”

Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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