By Kelsey Ryan
Russell England, the 90-year-old World War II veteran who lived through the Jim Crow days and the civil rights movement has been offered tickets to see President Barack Obama speak at the Joplin High commencement later this month.
“It’s going to be the greatest day of my life. I can’t wait,” England said. “It’s the best thing that could happen to me.”
England, of Joplin, was contacted Thursday by a staff member from Gov. Jay Nixon’s office about tickets to attend the graduation. Joplin schools Superintendent C.J. Huff saw the Globe article about England on Thursday morning and visited with the governor’s office by phone about getting England tickets.
“Someone from our office did contact Mr. England to ensure that he’s going to have the opportunity to attend the graduation there at Joplin High,” said Scott Holste, spokesman for Gov. Nixon’s office.
England’s grandniece, Kim Weathers, of Joplin, said a representative from the governor’s office told her Thursday that the family will have VIP tickets for them to attend graduation, as well as parking close to the event. Weathers is a tornado survivor who was buried in the rubble of the 15th Street Wal-Mart. She said she thought it was great how the president came to support Joplin after the storm.
“I just think I’m at a loss for words,” Weathers said. “It means everything to him (England) with everything he’s been through, growing up where he started from to now in the world in general. I don’t think he’s ever seen a president other than on TV.”
Efforts to obtain a ticket for England began several weeks when Bruce Baird, a former Joplin resident who now lives in Alameda, Calif., put ads on the craigslist.org website seeking graduation tickets for England, a longtime family friend.
“I’m glad I kicked the hornet’s nest and we got something stirred,” Baird said. “I tell you he’s elated — he’s very very excited.”
Graduation ceremonies are scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 21, at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center at Missouri Southern State University. The university plans to shut down the campus for the event. There will be an overflow room for residents in Taylor Auditorium. Each graduating senior will receive eight tickets to be used by family members.