Obama's farewell: Why suburbanites say they had to be there

Supporting Democratic presidents has been a major part of Charles Luczak's life, since the 91-year-old first voted for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940s.

So it was out of a sense of duty and respect that Luczak, of Evanston, boarded a 3 p.m. Metra train Tuesday afternoon to head to McCormick Place to hear President Barack Obama's farewell address, a wide-ranging speech that centered largely on the importance of protecting the American ideals of tolerance and democracy. It was his final public speech in office in the city where he launched his political career.

From Ogilvie Transportation Center, Luczak slowly shuffle a few blocks in the wind and the rain before he could board a bus to the convention center.

“It didn't do me any harm,” he said. “I wanted to be here, to say goodbye. I liked Obama's approach, how he tried to negotiate to resolve problems.”

Pamala Oglesby, a traveling nurse from North Chicago, didn't want to leave anything to chance regarding her attendance.

Oglesby made sure she had the day off from work Tuesday and arrived in downtown Chicago Monday night, booking a room at the Hyatt Regency.

For her, it was a natural cap on his eight years in office. In 2008, she was in Grant Park as Obama declared victory. She was also at the University of Chicago for Obama's address last year.

As a fellow African-American, Oglesby said she had an “incredible sense of pride” in the nation's first black president, who she said “seemed like he brought the world together” with his sense of optimism.

“I'm happy I'm here, and sad because I'm scared and uncertain for what's coming next,” she said, referring to President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration next week.

The line to enter McCormick Place stretched long as early as noon Tuesday, when Marty Rogers of Glen Ellyn jumped in it, armed with a bag of sandwiches to fuel him through the evening. Just an eighth-grader when Obama took office, Rogers, 21 and a student at Western Illinois University, said Obama's presidency fueled his interest in politics.

“He's a down-to-earth guy,” he said. “It made me feel like anybody has a chance if they work hard.”

Obama's farewell started with a performance from Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. The president took the stage at 8 p.m.

“Our constitution is a remarkably beautiful gift, but it's really just a piece of parchment. We the people (are) the power,” he said.

He noted that if democracy is to really work, Americans must take to heart the words of Atticus Finch, the lawyer hero of Harper Lee's best-selling book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” who advises his daughter to “climb into someone's skin and walk around in it.”

Noting that years ago, things were said about Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants, he called for the nation to “reject discrimination of Muslim Americans, who are just as patriotic as we are.

Wiping a tear from his eye, as he concluded, Obama called it “the honor of my life to serve you,” noting, “I won't stop.”

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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Images: President Barack Obama gave his farewell address in Chicago Tuesday

Supporters watch a video presentation before President Barack Obama gives his presidential farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago, Tuesday. Associated Press
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave from Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, as they leave for Chicago for his presidential farewell address. Associated Press
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