GEORGETOWN — There's nothing quite like having a president of the United States come to town — even one who has been out of office for 15 years.
The city of Georgetown, and the Georgetown College campus, were all atwitter Friday, when former President George H.W. Bush came here to help dedicate the college's recreation building, with Bush's own name on it.
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More than 1,000 people turned out to see the former president unveil his name on the front wall of the George H.W. Bush Center For Fitness, named to symbolize the involvement of both Bush and Georgetown College in The First Tee, a national golf-based program to improve the lives of young people. Five years ago, Georgetown became the first college in the country to offer scholarships for young people who complete The First Tee program.
"It's a real inspiration to me that Georgetown has accomplished so much in partnership with The First Tee, and it's going to last a lifetime," Bush told the audience.
"What you've done is proof that the 'Points of Light' spirit ... is alive and well in America today," Bush said, recalling the term he often used as president to describe the power of volunteerism.
The fact that Bush's single term in the White House ended in 1993 did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of those in the audience. No U.S. president had set foot on the Georgetown campus before.
"We're pretty excited," Georgetown City Council member Renie Cooney said. "To think that a person who actually has been president of the United States is going to be in Georgetown today ... It's monumental."
The crowd included the entire student body of Georgetown Middle School, which suspended classes so that more than 400 youngsters could glimpse the former president. The students walked to the Georgetown campus from their school, which is only a few blocks away.
The Georgetown College recreational building opened in 2003, but it didn't have a formal name until Friday's dedication.
George H.W. Bush is national honorary chairman of The First Tee program, which was launched by the World Golf Foundation 11 years ago as a vehicle to help young people learn values, skills and sportsmanship through golf and character education.
Youngsters from middle school through high school can join the program, learning to play golf while getting exposure to leaders in business, sports and government. There are about 200 First Tee chapters nationwide, including four in Kentucky.
Georgetown College President Bill Crouch, a member of First Tee's national board of directors, founded a First Tee Scholars program at Georgetown in 2003, the first such college program in the country. Since then, 19 other colleges and universities have followed Georgetown's lead, each offering at least two First Tee scholarships annually
Georgetown has awarded 10 First Tee scholarships. Three recipients have graduated; the others are still attending Georgetown, including three students from Illinois, two from Tennessee and one each from Arkansas and Minnesota.
Georgetown College has set a goal of raising $1.5 million to endow its First Tee Scholars program. Crouch said Friday that the school has raised $300,000 in current gifts and $700,000 in future endowment gifts, or a total of $1 million toward the goal.
During Friday's ceremonies, PGA President Brian Whitcomb presented Crouch with a $15,000 check from the golfing group to help with the endowment. Several other PGA officials, in Kentucky for the Ryder Cup international golf competition in Louisville, also took part in the dedication.
Bush, who flew to Georgetown from Philadelphia, arrived several minutes late because he was delayed by Philadelphia street traffic.
"I'm surprised you're still here," he told the crowd when he took the podium. "I hate to keep people waiting."
Bush, who left immediately after the ceremonies to attend the Ryder Cup, took no questions from reporters and made only an indirect reference to the current presidential campaign.
Noting the many golfers in attendance, Bush scoffed at his own skills on the links, quipping, "If I can beat Sarah Palin, I'll take you on."
Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, reportedly does not play golf.