by Bob Grawey
Lois Dare of Elk River was on a mission. Once her mind was set, nothing was going to deter her from speaking to President Barack Obama when he paid a visit to Cannon Falls this past Monday.
He was, after all, her last option.
Dare’s medical bills were mounting from her battle with lung cancer. She also has diabetes and a weak heart.
With medical bills of more than $10,000 and continuing to climb and no way to pay them, Dare sought Social Security disability.
Doctors said she would not be able to work again. Indeed, after three or four hours, Dare says she has to hook herself up to an oxygen machine for 1.5 hours to “pump up” her bad lung and to replace built-up toxins with a wash of pure oxygen.
Social Security denied Dare’s claim twice, so after fighting the federal agency for a year with no luck, Dare consulted an attorney.
Any hope she might have had of getting her problem solved with Social Security was dashed when attorneys told her it would be another 18 months before her case would even get heard.
Calls to her legislative representatives went unanswered as well.
All the while, Dare’s bills kept piling up and she still had no way to begin paying for them.
“I needed help. I didn’t know what to do,” Dare says. “I was in bed cryin’ and prayin’ and when I found out Obama was coming. I said, ‘I’m going to talk to the president. I told my husband, ‘Go fill up my truck. I’m goin’ to see the president.’”
She headed down toward Cannon Falls two days before Obama was due in town so she could get in line to see him.
Getting lost briefly, Dare finally found the town. Securing a room was another matter.
Dare says every room was booked. Even the truck stop and parks in Cannon Falls were packed with those hoping to see the nation’s leader.
Town folks steered her toward a safe place to park her truck for the night. So there she slept, along with her oxygen machine, until 4:30 in the morning.
Husband, Don Dare, says his wife sleeping in her truck by herself, and that far from home, was an amazing feat in itself since she is afraid to even go camping with him.
People Dare met the day before knocked on her truck window at 4:30 a.m., telling her it was time to get in line.
People had to line up just to get a chance for a numbered ticket to see the president. Dare was No. 179 in line and only 122 tickets remained once media and local officials received theirs.
But once White House staff made an announcement that no one could see the president if they had any type of petty misdemeanor or spent any kind of time in jail, the line dwindled and Dare jumped to No. 114 in line.
When her turn came, Dare says her picture was taken and it had to match her driver’s license. Those two things were issued a bar code which had a matching bar code on the ticket she was handed.
Dare was in.
She says ticket holders were told to leave and come back the next day at a prescribed time. But it was not without a warning. White House staff got wind of people trying to buy tickets.
“Do not try to sell your ticket or you will be prosecuted,” they were promised.
Dare says she was offered as much as $1,000 for her ticket. She adds she would not have sold her ticket, and it makes sense that people would get prosecuted since ticket holders had to go through such stringent background checks.
Another stretch of nervous excitement was on tap for Dare as she slept in her truck for a second consecutive night.
Once again some new friends knocked on her truck window to tell her it was time to get in line to see the president.
When Dare reached the designated area to line up, she and the other ticket holders were stopped two football fields she says, and made to go through two security checks, aside from being required to match their ticket bar code to their driver’s license.
Finally they were told to proceed to where the president would make his appearance. Still dragging her oxygen tank along with her, Dare says she had to stop a man passing by to ask for his help.
“I told him, ‘Sir, I am not going to be able to go that far without help.’ So he told me to get in his car. Then I saw it was his (press) secretary and I said to him, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be with the president?’ and he said, ‘What makes you think he’s not already here?’”
Dare took a seat right in front of the president’s podium. Soon after taking the podium, President Obama began taking questions. Dare says he only took seven or eight questions.
“I just rested my elbow on the table and held my fingers up like this,” Dare indicates with two fingers raised upward. “I was the fourth question and he said, ‘Young lady…’”
She asked the president what she was supposed to do when Social Security denied her when she could not work to pay her bills.
He answered Dare and used her as an example, saying everyone who pays into Social Security should expect to use benefits they have paid for.
When the president concluded his talk, he left the podium to talk to Dare and shake her hand.
Before he reached her, though, she dropped her sunglasses. As she began to move to retrieve them, a Secret Service agent quickly kicked them toward her and told her not to even try to lean over to pick them up. No one is allowed to make any kind of movement toward the president, she was told.
Obama then reached Dare.
Then she says the most remarkable thing happened when the president leaned in and hugged her.
“I didn’t even hear what he said after that,” Dare adds.
But he had staff take down Dare’s contact information.
The president’s talk over, he and his entourage left. Dare says he did not have time to even reach the airport before her phone started ringing.
It was Rep. Michele Bachmann’s and Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s offices. They had been instructed to resolve Lois Dare’s Social Security problem. The next day Dare received a call from Gov. Mark Dayton.
Dare says Republicans and Democrats have come together to take care of her problem of getting disability benefits from Social Security, and that she has been told her benefits will begin Sept. 1, 2011.
For Dare, it was the best day of her life, one she will never forget.
But two words can sum up her experience best: Mission accomplished.