‘Bored of Directors’ weighs in on presidency

Published 10:48 am Wednesday, January 21, 2009

FRANKLIN—In 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his first inaugural address, Franklin resident Archie H. Soucek, now 95, was there.

Soucek, who was 21 at the time, was studying at the U.S. Naval Academy when he and other midshipmen were ordered to march in Roosevelt’s inauguration parade.

Soucek said he wasn’t thinking about the type of impact FDR would later have on the country that day; he just wanted the whole thing to be over quickly.

“It was a rainy, icy and cold day,” he recalled. “The bushes and trees were capped with ice and water was rushing in the gutters. Some of the guys were wading in knee-deep water all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Soucek said he felt a sense of optimism in the air.

“I did know that Roosevelt was something new and unusual,” he said. “We were going through the Depression and people were looking for a change then, just like they are now.”

When FDR uttered one of the most famous phrases in history, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” people were overcome with optimism, Soucek recalled.

“I remember people feeling quite hopeful after he said that,” he said.

On the day before President Obama’s historic inauguration, Soucek and four of his friends gathered at Fred’s Restaurant on Main Street to chat over coffee. The group, affectionately known to many as either the “Coffee Klatch” or The Franklin “Bored” of Directors, gathers regularly to discuss the events of the day or rehash old times.

All, with the exception of John C. Hopkins, who at age 80 is considered the baby of the group, are World War II veterans. Hopkins served in Korea.

The men, who have seen many presidents come and go, discussed the inauguration, the state of the economy and what they think Obama will do to help the country in these challenging times.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Allen Minetree, 86. “I think he has what it takes to unite the country and get us out of this economic mess.”

Thomas Jones, 90, said he could feel a new era beginning.

“I remember when John Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you.’ That was a time of generational change. That’s what I see now: a new generation is taking over.”

Phil E. Frankfort, 89, was in high school when FDR was elected and listened to his speech over the radio.

“People hoped there would be a magic wand waved and we would come out of the Depression,” he said. “It wasn’t fixed overnight and this won’t be either. While Obama won’t be able to do much as president to get the banking system back on its feet, what he can do is bring confidence to the people who can make that change.”

Hopkins agreed.

“I think Obama is a fine young man,” he said. “He proved that he certainly wanted to be president bad enough. He has an enthusiasm that other people can sense and get, too. You can’t fake enthusiasm.”

When asked if they had any advice for President Obama, answers were varied.

“I would tell him, you can’t make everybody happy,” Hopkins said. “There will be times when nobody will seem to like what you are doing. He’ll just have to take it like it comes.”

Jones said he didn’t have any advice, but added, “His greatest strength is that he is a realist. He understands nothing is going to improve overnight. I believe he is capable of providing the ideas and leadership to help the country get beyond these difficult economic times.”

Soucek said President Obama already knows what he needs to do.

“There was a lot of want and desire in him,” he said. “That’s what won him the presidency. Others had their way paved for them. He had to follow his own path. He wanted it. When you want something, you work hard for it. I think he’ll do the same for the country.”

Minetree said he has high hopes for the new president.

“I am optimistic that Obama will be remembered in the history books as one of the best we’ve had.”