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Obama inauguration: Area residents share experiences

Rachel Becker, a 2006 Bemidji State University graduate who is originally from Park Rapids, sits at one of the ticketed viewing stands along the inaugural parade route Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Behind Becker is the U.S. Treasury Building. Submitted Photo

One block away from the U.S. Capitol, Rachel Becker watched President Barack Obama's inauguration on a large TV screen inside the Rayburn House Office Building.

Becker, a 2006 Bemidji State University graduate who is originally from Park Rapids, was attending a reception there hosted by the Minnesota State Society of Washington, D.C.

Through the building's windows, Becker could see the crowds gathered.

"There's so many people outside," she said.

Despite the crowds, the atmosphere was peaceful, she said.

"It was the most peaceful crowd I think I've ever experience," Becker said. "Everyone was happy and peaceful and nice to each other."

With a ticket in hand, Becker headed to the inaugural parade later Tuesday and watched as Obama and Vice President Joe Biden passed by.

Becker, who is a member of the Minnesota State Society's board and employed as the game entertainment coordinator for the Washington Capitols, said it's an honor to live in the Washington, D.C., area during this historic moment.

On Monday, she attended the Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball hosted by the Texas State Society. Becker, who bought her ticket a year ago, said she enjoyed the atmosphere with 12,000 other people. She said it was an honor to come together with people from different parts of the country to celebrate the "peaceful transition of power."

The ball featured performances by several country music artists - including Jack Ingram, Tracy Byrd, Neal McCoy, Rick Trevino and Asleep at the Wheel - and other celebrities.

"Denzel Washington also made an appearance," she said.

Becker also attended the "We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial" Sunday where her friend, Master Sgt. Caleb Green of the U.S. Army, sang the national anthem. Green regularly sings the national anthem at Washington Capitols games.

"To see him on the screen in front of the Lincoln was amazing," Becker said.

Louise Mengelkoch, chairwoman of the BSU Department of Mass Communications and professor of journalism, also made her way to Washington, D.C., for Obama's inauguration with three BSU students: mass communications majors Gregory Moon and Kelsey Olson and Student Senate Co-president Ryan Schwingler.

Mengelkoch said the crowds were amazing. To climb from the Metro station to the street, usually a walk of a few minutes, took half an hour, and the lines for tickets wrapped all around the Longworth Building.

Mengelkoch said she was impressed with the people who patiently waited on a cold, windy day for hours to experience Obama's inauguration. Many wept as they took in the historic moments, she said.

"It was the event of their lives," she said.

As former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, circled away in their helicopter to private life, Mengelkoch said the crowd cheered.

Mengelkoch, who is staying with relatives for the inauguration, said she would not be attending any of the inaugural balls. "I actually went to (the Massachusetts Ball) one year as a volunteer," she recalled. "It was '97 when it was so cold and we had to stand outside and direct traffic."

The plus side of that experience, she said was "I got to see Bill and Hillary."