Sisters touched by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's visit to Auburn
by Scott Rapp / The Post-Standard Monday June 08, 2009, 9:28 PM
For sisters Mary Anne Cooper and Sue VanHoltz, the lengthy wait to see Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday proved to be well worth the hours spent.
Cooper and VanHoltz had positioned themselves at the Memorial City Hall parking lot since early morning in hopes of persuading Palin to sign their copies of a biography on the Alaska governor.
"I have a special needs grandson and I want to give him the book," VanHoltz, of Auburn, said shortly before Palin's parade car came to rest in the heavily guarded parking lot.
"Sarah, Sarah, please sign our books," the sisters yelled several times to Palin as she stepped out of a red Cadillac convertible some 30 yards away. Palin glanced at the women, smiled and gave them a thumbs-up sign.
Within five minutes, a Palin staff person collected the women's books and returned to City Hall. He re-emerged from the building moments later with the autographed copies in hand and gave them to Cooper and VanHoltz.
"I can't tell you how much this means to me. I can't put it into words," a tearful VanHoltz said.
Palin touched many during the Founders Day event and parade, which this year celebrated Auburn's historical ties to Alaska.
During her 10-minute speech at City Hall after the parade, Palin saluted Susan-Kealoha Capone, whose son Army Pfc. Patrick DeVoe II was killed in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan in March.
"Our hearts go out to you, God bless you, God bless you for your son's courage," Palin said to loud applause.
"And Auburn join me in promising Susan that her soldier son's ... fighting effort was not in vain. But let us resolve to keep up the fight for America, for our freedom," she said.
There were plenty of lighter moments, too, especially on the parade route where an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people swarmed East Genesee and South streets to catch a glimpse of Palin.
On East Genesee Street, Bill Oberkoetter, of Rochester, drew laughs from the crowd when he darted into the street flashing a sign that said, "Hey Alaska, Wanna Swap Governors?"
Afterward, Oberkoetter said -- with tongue in cheek -- that he thinks Alaska residents are too smart to go for the trade. He called himself a Palin supporter. "We think she's a breath of fresh air. She's not political and she's down to earth," Oberkoetter said.
Speaking of governors, many in the large crowd at City Hall booed loudly when state Sen. David Valesky, D-Oneida, said in his welcoming remarks to Palin that Gov. David Paterson was unable to attend the event.
While many soaked in the opportunity to see and hear Palin, the day proved to be bittersweet for Navy veteran James Spinelli, of Auburn, who served on the USS Iowa during the Korean War.
Palin's visit coincided with the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. His brother John, a combat engineer, was killed in the battle.
"The wars are still going on. Some day people have got to learn to live together," Spinelli said.
Asked if he thinks that will ever happen, Spinelli replied, "Not in our lifetime."