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posted: 11/7/2012 6:49 AM

Portage man, 102, still regrets vote for Hoover

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PORTAGE, Ind. -- Catherine Bryan guided her husband of 67 years toward the ballot booth with a playful nod and a gentle push.

"Now go do your civic duty again," she told him.

Kenneth Bryan, who's 102 years old, didn't need any Election Day instructions, especially from his 89-year-old wife.

He's been voting longer than most of us have been alive, since 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected into office after beating incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover.

"I voted for that Hoover, but I shouldn't have done that," Kenneth told the Post-Tribune ( ) on Tuesday morning.

"You shouldn't tell him that!" Catherine whispered to her husband.

"Oh well," he replied with a shrug.

After the couple entered the Best Western Hotel in Portage, the polling place for the city's precinct 6, they were asked for their driver's licenses.

"We're old enough to vote, you know," Catherine quipped to a poll worker.

"Yes I know, but I still need to see your driver's license," a poll worker replied.

"Oh, I know that," said Catherine, who had her driver's license ready to go since early that morning.

The Portage couple typically splits their ticket on the ballot - voting for the candidate, not for a political party - and they typically chat about the candidates beforehand. It's all part of their process before any Election Day together, from the 1940s to today.

"Aren't they precious? Just precious!" exclaimed Lori Rizer of Chesterton, one of many poll workers who treat the Bryans like Election Day celebrities when they come to vote.

"Everyone in our precinct just adores them," she said while hugging them.

Another poll worker, named Rosemarie, said to no one in particular, "If this don't put shame into those people who don't vote, I don't know what will."

"We wouldn't miss our chance to vote," Catherine said flatly. "And we always vote around 10 o'clock in the morning. We do our civic duty and then we go back home and do the dishes or whatever. We would like to think that our vote matters."

Kenneth and Catherine, who are both EJ&E Railroad retirees, have three sons, six grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and several great-great nieces and nephews.

The couple lived in the Miller section of Gary for decades before moving to Portage in 1980. In fact, as a kid I used to play football in a field underneath a towering water tank across the street from their home.

"We've been voting forever it seems," said Catherine, who finished filling out her ballot a few minutes before her husband. "He's very thorough."

After they exited the polling place and headed back to their vehicle, I asked if they're hopeful that their chosen candidates would win.

"Of course," Catherine replied with a laugh.

"I hope so," Kenneth replied with a wink.

On the other side of the city, Erica Gaffney cast her first-ever ballot on an Election Day at Jones Elementary School, her former school.

It will surely be a memorable day for the 18-year-old Purdue University student, similar to the decades-old memories of Kenneth Bryan. But it wasn't as easy as she had expected.

Gaffney, who lives on campus in West Lafayette, expected to receive her absentee ballot in the mail before Election Day, but it never arrived.

"Mom, I really want to vote," she told her mother, Laura Gaffney of Portage, on Monday night.

"Then I'll come pick you up," her mother replied.

And that's exactly what Laura did on Tuesday morning, picking up Erica after her morning class. They returned to Portage in plenty of time to vote, an important privilege for the military family.

"This is what our soldiers fight for, for our freedom to vote," Laura explained after voting with her daughter.

"Our country doesn't ask much from us, not really. This is the least we can do. It's our duty."

It's now her daughter's proud patriotic duty, too.

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