She knows him as Barry. Two years older than Sandpoint resident Dyno Wahl, he was one of her brother’s best friends during their high school years in Hawaii. He slept over at their house, played endless basketball with her brother and was often a guest at their dinner table.
Barry – now known to the world as Barack Obama – took his place in history earlier this week when he was sworn in as the first African American president of the United States. And there was no way that Wahl was going to miss the event.
“My brother (Mark Bendix) got a call from Barack’s office to confirm that he would attend,” said Wahl. Her brother, who now lives in Portland, was a guest of the president at this week’s events and sat in the reserved seating during the swearing-in ceremony.
Another friend of Obama and Bendix organized the close knit group of high school friends and they all traveled to witness the events that will forever be etched in their minds.
Wahl said her brother was unsure if he was going to be able to see his friend, much less speak to him.
“But he was able to spend time with Barack (during the inauguration events) which was really nice,” said Wahl, who traveled to Washington, D.C., four days before the inauguration with her two children to witness the historic event. While her brother had reserved seating compliments of President Obama, Wahl received her tickets from Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo.
“I thought that was really nice considering he’s a Republican,” joked Wahl.
As part of the pre-inauguration events, on Monday Wahl took part in a Public Day of Service, organized by First Lady Michelle Obama.
“It was an incredible experience,” she said, who added that although Washington, D.C., was extremely crowded it was not stressful. “The crowds were amazing, but it was a happy crowd – no one was angry.”
While the swearing-in was very moving, Wahl said her favorite part of the week was the opening ceremony.
“There was incredible music and it was just a great feeling of celebration,” she said.
Wahl said the election of Obama has united those from their youth. “There was a cocktail party for the members of the 1979 graduating class of Punahou High School,” said Wahl a 1981 graduate, who attended the event with her brother. “It’s been really fun to see everyone after all these years.”
Traditionally one of the official inaugural balls is a Home State Ball. For Obama, there were two – Illinois and Hawaii. Wahl attended the Hawaiian ball for which the attire was black tie and ethnic formal and included authentic Hawaiian music.
Wahl said her parents have kept in contact with Obama over the years, including a back stage visit when he was on the campaign trail in Portland, and have found the events of the last two years surreal. Although they were not able to attend the inauguration, Wahl said her parents were living the experience vicariously through her and her brother.
“They (her parents) were some of his mentors in life, and now he’s the president of the United States,” said Wahl. “They’re extremely proud.”