A Lawrence historian is organizing an effort to invite President Barack Obama to Lawrence in 2011 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Kansas statehood and the beginning of the U.S. Civil War.
Clenece Hills will host a meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at the Lawrence Public Library to gather support for her idea that Lawrence should host a presidential address.
“I don’t think it is a good idea to think small when you are trying to draw attention to something,” Hills said.
Hills is proposing that Obama be invited to Lawrence on Sept. 18, 2011, which will be the 157th anniversary of the founding of Lawrence. Hills has suggested that Obama be part of an event at Sesquicentennial Point that would include a Lawrence City Band concert and remarks by Obama.
Hills, a Lawrence school teacher, is the former chair of the Lawrence Sesquicentennial Commission, which lobbied for the creation of Sesquicentennial Point near the Clinton Lake Dam. She hopes this event would spur new improvements at the point.
Kansas’ 150th birthday will be on Jan. 29, 2011, and the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War will be on April 12, 2011. Hills is proposing a September event for Lawrence in an effort to ensure better weather, she said.
Hills said she hopes Monday’s meeting generates enough support for the idea that she can ask the city and county commissions to extend an invitation to Obama within the next month.
Part of that process likely will be determining how much a presidential visit may cost the city in terms of security and other preparations. Hills said those costs weren’t yet known.
Judy Billings, director for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and for the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, said inviting the president is an intriguing idea but said it would take a large group of people stepping forward to serve as organizers.
“The history our area has is worthy of that type of attention,” Billings said. “But we just don’t have a lot of the necessary things in place right now. We’re trying to get an organization in place so when people have a big idea like this we’ll be ready.”
Billings also said time is of the essence. She said it would be challenging to organize all the details of a presidential visit prior to 2011.
“But you never know what can happen,” Billings said. “And I do believe we need to think big.”
Hills believes there’s at least a chance that Obama would be interested in making a speech in Lawrence. Hills said the important national role that Lawrence and Kansas played in the days leading up to the Civil War would provide a good setting, and she noted that Obama has several Kansas connections, including having former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as part of his cabinet.