George H.W. Bush visited McHenry County twice while on the campaign trail in 1988.
Former 32nd District Sen. Jack Schaffer helped make those visits happen. The now 76-year-old Cary resident was chairman of the Bush campaign in McHenry County that year, and he also worked on Bush’s state campaign.
When Bush’s campaign staff in Illinois were determining where the then-vice president should make a stop in the state, Schaffer said he asked them to “give McHenry County a shot.”
“I was kind of like a little kid jumping up and down, saying, ‘We want it, we want it!’ “ Schaffer said.
Schaffer got his wish. He was in charge of organizing Bush’s visits in March and October that year at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake.
Bush, the 41st president who died Friday, became the first vice president of the U.S. to visit McHenry County when he made a stop March 12, 1988, at MCC, according to a Northwest Herald story at the time.
Bush was accompanied by his wife, Barbara, then-Gov. James Thompson, U.S. Rep. Phil Crane and Air Force Brigadier Gen. Chuck Yeager.
At the time, Bush was President Ronald Reagan’s vice president and was campaigning for the Republican bid to succeed Reagan in the White House.
His chief rival in the primary was Sen. Robert Dole.
The Northwest Herald reported that the crowd was “well-behaved and enthusiastic,” and seats on the floor were filled with local politicians while residents “scrambled for seats in the bleachers” in MCC’s multipurpose room. Crystal Lake police officers were on hand, and a band from Crystal Lake Central High School provided music for the visit.
During his 10-minute speech, Bush touched on topics such as taxes, better education and the budget deficit.
“I want to be known as the education president,” Bush was quoted saying at the time. “Let’s vow to make America a literate nation by the end of the first term of the next president.”
Schaffer said he had about 10 days to set up Bush’s March visit.
When the Secret Service came in to prepare before the event, they put duct tape on the floor to mark where Bush would walk – even mapping out his route to the restroom, Schaffer said.
“[The] funny part was that Barbara [Bush], could go wherever she wanted,” Schaffer said. “She was down in the crowd.”
Schaffer recalled that there were a few thousand people at the March event, with hundreds more outside.
The event went so well that Bush returned Oct. 29, 1988.
The Northwest Herald reported that about 2,000 people showed up for the rally.
“I am not going to let that liberal governor divide this nation,” Bush told the crowd at the time, speaking of his opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
The vice president visited Kane County later that day and spoke at a Gilberts sod farm.
“To loud cheers, Bush came down squarely in favor of voluntary prayer in schools, squarely against federal gun control laws, squarely in favor of the death penalty, squarely against more taxes,” according to a Northwest Herald story.
Bush also delivered the line that would come back to haunt him in 1992: “I don’t have to say it again, but just read my lips: No new taxes.”
Both times Bush visited, Schaffer said, the future president and his wife were incredibly gracious and well-received by the crowd.
“I’ve always had a great deal of pride in the man,” Schaffer said. “I thought he was an outstanding president and lived a life of service [that was] virtually unparalleled.”