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County to commemorate president's visit to 1992 Apple Festival

President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush admire local apples. They're flanked by U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor (left) and North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin. [GEORGE H. W. BUSH PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM] President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush admire local apples. They're flanked by U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor (left) and North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin. [GEORGE H. W. BUSH PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM]

In 73 years of the North Carolina Apple Festival, there likely has never been a bigger crowd than the one that packed the streets on Sept. 5, 1992, when President George H.W. Bush came to town.

 

Some 10,000 people jammed into a cordoned off area at the Historic Courthouse plaza and another 8,000 people watched from the streets beyond the secured courtyard that day. “We want Bush,” the crowd chanted before the president appeared to make a short speech on the Courthouse porch. Everyone not under an umbrella got soaked.
“Considering the weather we had a terrific day,” state Rep. Larry Justus told the Times-News that night. “It was one that was beyond all expectations, I think, even if we had a bright sunny day.”
Twenty-seven years later, Henderson County commissioners, the Heritage Museum and the Apple Festival will honor the late president’s visit with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque and storyboard with news clippings from that Labor Day weekend.
Carolyn Justus, who now chairs the Heritage Museum, helped plan the event alongside her husband, Rep. Justus.
“I don’t actually don’t know who invited him,” she said of provenance of Bush’s visit, which came in the middle of his re-election campaign against Bill Clinton. “The event was coordinated through the Republican Party and my late husband and I did a lot of the setup planning with the FBI and different people like that. Grady Hawkins did the setup at the courthouse and I think (then County Manager) David Nicholson did some setup in the driving arrangements.”
The demand for access to the event surprised Carolyn and Larry Justus.
“At one time they had us giving out tickets to get people into the yard of the courthouse and it became a nightmare at headquarters,” she said. “People were lining up, chewing people out.”
The competition for the most prestigious access was even worse.
“We got to pick 40 people that could stand on the courthouse porch behind him,” she said. One caller said that he had suffered a heart attack just a week earlier and desperately wanted to see President Bush. “He became one of the 40,” Justus said.


Huge demand for access

The visit ignited the local Republican Party.
“We had more enthusiasm than I’ve seen in a long long time, and I can say that because I’ve not only been a county chairman for several terms but also (congressional) district chairman,” Rep. Justus told the Times-News. “Since the Bush visit was rumored we’ve had more people pouring in through our headquarters than I can recall in 30 years.”
The Bush visit was confirmed in a call at 4:27 p.m. Wednesday, three days before it was to happen, the newspaper reported.
“We will let in as many people as the street will accommodate,” Ed Cowling, an advance man for the president, said.
The Times-News assigned five reporters to cover the story and staffers came back to the newsroom with the good and the bad.
“We have had people come in and out of our store today,” Sherman’s owner Francee Sherman said. “The most popular item that sold today was umbrellas.”
Two people holding Clinton-Gore signs complained that men had ripped Clinton-Gore signs from their hands and stomped on them. Emily Waters, a 21-year-old UNC student from Hendersonville, was wearing a Clinton-Gore T-shirt and holding a sign when “a clean-cut man in his mid-40s ripped the poster out of my hand and pulled it to the ground,” she told a reporter. The crowd erupted in cheers when a Hendersonville police officer removed an “N.C. for Clinton and Gore” sign from a building that overlooked the courthouse plaza.
“This is apparently an attempt to limit access to the marketplace of ideas,” the county Democratic Party chairman, Jim Toms, said, adding that the party had received permission from the building’s tenant to hang the sign.
Toms, a many generation native who loves local history, has mellowed.
“The plaque is absolutely beautiful,” Carolyn Justus said. “It was Jim Toms’ idea that the Heritage Museum have this plaque and Jim Toms was the Democratic Party chairman at that time.”
President Bush hit reliable campaign themes, the flag and, well, apple pie, that the crowd loved.
“No state could be more patriotic,” he said. He also said: “Even the rain can’t ruin a great festival like this.”
“I thought President Bush enunciated things people of this area probably wanted to hear – family values, military service, love of country and compassion for people,” Justus said that night.



Rain grounds exit flight

 

Hawkins, who will attend the unveiling, recalled the challenges of getting the president to and from Hendersonville. An Air Force pilot with more than 300 combat missions in Vietnam, Hawkins, a recently retired colonel, had been drafted to help with logistics.
“Where I got involved was in the plans to get him here and get back,” he said. “We couldn’t land Air Force One at the Asheville airport at that time and there was some discussion going on about how to actually get him here in Hendersonville and I pointed out that we had the little Hendersonville airport, which Air Force One couldn’t use obviously.
“So he landed in Greenville at the airport and took a helicopter up here to Hendersonville. That worked out real well except when it got time to leave. It was just raining buckets while he was here, and the weather was so bad the helicopter couldn’t get back to our little airport so we quickly arranged a motorcade to catch the airport. Sometime later I received a set of George Bush cufflinks from the party.”
Although Bush lost to Clinton, he carried North Carolina and was clearly popular with the Apple Festival crowd.
“It rained like crazy while he was here but it was still a standing room only crowd out front. (His wife) Doris worked some on the advance team. It was a lotta folks in the county that got involved with his movement in and out. … It was a very memorable occasion, I will say that.”
One of those standing in the downpour was Candler Willis, a Republican Party activist for many years.
“I remember it rained like the devil and (President Bush) had to stand out in the middle of it and he stood there completely unperturbed,” Candler said. “He had to stand there and take it and give his speech anyway. I got soaked to the bone just standing there watching it.”

The Bushes admired the display of fresh apples and posed for pictures with political figures and children. The local delegation presented the first lady a crystal apple.
“Things went very well,” Carolyn Justus said. “It was a very nice event and to the best of our knowledge it’s only time a (sitting) president has ever been in Henderson County. We don’t know of anyone else. A lot of people you mention it to that visit the museum, they don’t know about it at all. They probably didn’t even live here.”
The plaque will be unveiled during the opening ceremony of the Apple Festival Friday morning. Justus will make brief remarks, thanking the people involved and expressing the museum’s pride in presenting the commemoration.
“And Grady Hawkins is going to elaborate a little bit and then we’re going to unveil it,” she said.