WINTERSVILLE - At 87, Andy DiPalma could certainly have found something at home to keep him busy.
Instead, the Steubenville resident was standing in the Indian Creek High School auditorium Thursday, one of hundreds of area residents who waited for hours for a chance to hear former President Bill Clinton talk presidential politics.
DiPalma said he didn't mind the wait.
ON HAND TO SEE PRESIDENT — Steubenville resident Alex Lyons brought a copy of President Clinton’s autobiography, “My Life,” to Thursday’s Obama-Biden rally, hoping to get the former commander-in-chief’s autograph.
-- Linda Harris
WATCHING CLINTON — Bobbi Taylor sees health care as the most important issue facing voters in the 2012 election. Taylor, a Wheeling resident, said she couldn’t pass up the chance to hear former President Bill Clinton in person during a campaign stop Thursday in Wintersville.
-- Linda Harris
"Obama's my man," the World War II veteran said, a smile lighting his face. "I think he's got a good start and he wants to do the job. He's for the regular people - that's what I fought for."
It was a diverse crowd that greeted the former president: All ages, all races, all applauding wildly when he broached topics near and dear to the hearts of Ohio Valley residents - health care, Medicare, coal, education.
Belinda Puchajda of Lisbon said there was never any doubt that she'd be there.
"My mother adored him," she said, a picture of her mother pressed against her side. "She passed away April 27. A friend of mine went to the inauguration and asked my mom if he could bring something back for her. She said, 'Yeah, Bill Clinton.' She just loved him."
Puchajda, 48, said she's worried about funding for education and creating more jobs, "union jobs," and said she likes what she's hearing from the Democratic camp.
"Unions are what built America," she said. "We need to stand behind them and support them."
Dewighca Dawson, a Steubenville resident, thought it important enough to be there to witness a bit of history in the making that she brought her three children - ages 17, 10 and 6.
"It's the chance of a lifetime," said Dawson, 35. "I wasn't alive when Kennedy was president. I actually went back and did some research. I think Obama has a lot of the same qualities Kennedy had. I know a lot of African-Americans vote for him because he's black, but I'm voting for him because he's the better candidate. It has nothing to do with race."
Wheeling residents Bobbi Taylor and her 21-year-old daughter, Angela, said they love Clinton, "and we want to support Obama because of health care."
"It's very important to me," said Angela, who suffers from auto-immune disorders and arthritis. "I'm not insurable. My brain is healthy, my body sucks. I want to own my own business in the future, and I want to be able to take charge of my own health care and my employees' health care."
Alex Lyons, a Steubenville resident, clutched a copy of Clinton's autobiography under one arm, hoping for a chance to get the ex-president to autograph it.
"He seems like such an ordinary person," Lyons said. "He plays the sax, he's down to earth. I'm a fan of Bill Clinton, but I already voted for Obama."
Jean Isler of Steubenville gave the former president high marks for his remarks, "especially on health care."
"My husband has diabetes," Isler said. "We've been dealing with it for years. I also have a friend fighting for Medicare. What he said about Medicare, about health care - that's what I wanted to hear. When I get to that age, I want to know it's going to be there for me, too."
Linda Pickenpaugh of Belmont said the idea of staying home never crossed her mind.
"Rain wasn't going to keep us away," she said. "Why? Because this country is important to me. I think he clearly delineated the major differences between the two candidates, the main one being that what Romney proposes is returning to the same policies that got us into economic problems in the first place. We're headed toward recovery now - it's a difficult process, it's going to be slow, but it's happening."
Afterwards, Indian Creek Superintendent John Rocchi said it had been a challenge, "but I think the outcome is positive for our community."
"Being able to see a former president of the United States here - I think it's the first time in the school's history that we've had someone of that stature," Rocchi said. "That's the positive we're looking at. We're not supporting one party or another, we just want people to get out and vote."
Barb Terry, a Mingo Junction resident and Indian Creek employee, clutched a copy of a memoir written by her sister-in-law, Carlotta Walls Lanier, on the Little Rock Seven, which included a foreward written by Clinton himself.
"Look," she said proudly. "He signed it ... 'To Barb: Carlotta's wonderful.' That means the world to me. For him to write that ... I can't wait to call Carlotta and tell her."
And Terry said she loved Clinton's speech
"I was so inspired," she said. "He nailed it, everything he said. He did a wonderful job. It brought tears to my eyes just to be here."
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)