Thousands of Kent residents and Kent State University students and staff witnessed history Wednesday as President Barack Obama campaigned at the MACC.
Hundreds more watched the president deliver his campaign speech on TV from an overflow space in the Kent State Student Center.
And even hundreds more gathered on campus and around town to follow the president's visit online.
Kendra Landfair was one of those lucky 6,600 people who watched from inside the MACC. Beforehand, she braved pouring rain and stood in line for almost six hours to get a glimpse of the president.
"I never met a president before," Landfair, a Kent State student, said before Obama's speech. "I’m sick, my nose is running, my throat hurts. Once I get in there it will be worth it."
Obama talks higher education
Like most college students, Landfair wanted to hear Obama talk about financial aid for students.
Leah Kushmaul, a fellow student at Kent State, was looking for the same thing.
"I want to hear him talk about the financial aid situation because I know Romney’s big on decreasing giving financial aid," Kushmaul said. "And I don’t think that’s a good idea."
Neither woman left disappointed.
As expected, Obama's speech focused on his plan to strengthen the U.S. economy from the middle out. But he did touch briefly on higher education.
Obama talked about how he and First Lady Michelle Obama both worked hard to earn a degree.
"It’s the gateway to the middle class," he said of a college education.
Obama said his opponent, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, wants to undo the progress made by his administration to reduce interest rates on student loans by cutting private banks out of the process.
"So we can gut education to pay for more tax breaks for the wealthy, or we can decide in the United States of America no child should have their degrees deferred because of an overcrowded classroom," Obama said. "No family should have to set aside a college acceptance letter because they don’t have the money.
In Ohio, nearly 363,000 students received Pell Grants in 2010 to further their education, including 18,310 students at Kent State, according to the Obama campaign.
"I want especially the young people to understand you should feel confident about our future," Obama said. "Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met."
The president's comments about higher education received big cheers from the crowd. But easily the biggest crowd response came after Obama talked about his goal to ensure women make their own, personal healthcare decisions.
Marsha Schumacher, a retiree who drove from Alliance, OH, to see the president was happy to hear that.
"I think President Obama will ensure women have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies," she said.
Obama's stop at Kent State was his second on a Northeast Ohio college campus Wednesday. Earlier he campaigned at Bowling Green State University.
No downtown stop
Many people hoped the president would stop in downtown Kent afterward to see more than $20 million in federal stimulus dollars in action via more than $100 million in redevelopment projects.
Some gathered on Erie Street near PARTA's Kent Central Gateway transit center, which received the bulk of Kent's stimulus money, hoping to see his motorcade roll up.
Others were hopeful he would grab a bite to eat downtown.
Matt French, vice president of AMETEK, one of downtown's new corporate tenants thanks to the redevelopment, was one of those people waiting on Erie Street.
French waited until 7:05 p.m. before giving up — the president's speech on campus ended at about 6:30 p.m.
Others still milled about Acorn Alley afterward watching the streets.
Visit not without bumps
Kent State President Lester Lefton said after Obama's speech that he was proud Kent State hosted the president.
"We welcome all politicians to express their views in an open and collegial way," Lefton said. "It is the free exchange of ideas that makes universities great and, indeed, our country great. Our community welcomed the president warmly and with appropriate respect for the president of the United States."
Not everyone was as thrilled with how the president's visit went.
Nancy Binzel Brown, a Stow business owner with tickets to the campaign event, posted on Facebook that after waiting in the rain to get into the MAC Center Wednesday her group missed the entrance cutoff.
"We watched the speech in the ballroom of the student center with 800 other people who didn't get in to the MACC," she said.
Heather McShane Liptak also was turned away from the MACC despite having a ticket for the event.
"I waited in line on Monday, got my tickets, got there at 4:30 p.m. (Wednesday), and was turned away because they were at capacity," she said in a post on the Kent Patch Facebook page. "Nobody had any answers for me."
Obama's stop also rerouted some Kent City Schools buses, due to the closure of Summit Street, as they took grade-school students home at the end of the day.
Jim Soyars, director of business services for the school district, said the dismissal went smoothly despite the route changes.
"We were able to get the high school (and) middle school busses through Summit Street before the road closure," Soyars said. "Most of the parents from those neighborhoods picked up their students at school, and the rest of the parents were at the Summit East lot when the two buses arrived."
Still, it proved a historic day for many.
Obama's visit makes him the first incumbent president to stop at Kent State in decades, KentWired reported. The last incumbent president to visit Kent was Herbert Hoover in 1932, according to KentWired.
"It’s once in a lifetime," Kushmaul said.