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Three centenarians recall meeting the president

From John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington Grace Wolford, who turned 100 years old on Aug. 15, still remembers visiting the White House in 1925 and shaking hands with President Calvin Coolidge."Our senior class went to Washington," she said recently. "We only had 33 in our class. They didn't all go. We had to pay our own way and everything. We left on a Friday and came back Sunday, on th

From John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington

Grace Wolford, who turned 100 years old on Aug. 15, still remembers visiting the White House in 1925 and shaking hands with President Calvin Coolidge.

"Our senior class went to Washington," she said recently. "We only had 33 in our class. They didn't all go. We had to pay our own way and everything. We left on a Friday and came back Sunday, on the train, the B & O."

Grace said she and her classmates from Ferndale High School in Pennsylvania had no trouble getting into the White House.

"Things weren't like they are today," she said. "At that time it wasn't a big deal, but today it would be. The president was sitting there in the lobby or someplace, and we all got to shake hands with him, any of us that wanted to."

Did Coolidge say anything to her?

"Well, I don't remember," Grace said. "It was so long ago. It was in 1925. I don't think we were there very long. We only had a couple of days in Washington, and there were other things we wanted to do."

Wasn't she excited about meeting the president?

"Sure I was," she said. "You'd be, too. Anybody would be excited to meet the president."

Someone who saw a lot of the president in the early 1960s was 100-year-old Ena Bernard, who worked for Robert and Ethel Kennedy for 44 years. She often saw Robert's older brother, John Kennedy, the nation's 35th president.

Ena Bernard in May 2008

"He was nice, polite," Ena remembers. "I did not sit down and talk to him. Just, 'Hello, how are you doing? How is everything going?' And I'd say, 'Oh, fine, it's a beautiful day,' and like that."

She also saw the first lady, Jackie Kennedy.

"She was like me," Ena said. "She never liked to get in a big conversation, or anything like that. She would give me a smile, and she'd ask, 'Are you feeling all right?'"

Ena, who lives today with her daughter in Sunrise, Fla., said she never cared about politics and focused instead on caring for Robert and Ethel Kennedy's 11 children.

"I'm not a politician," she said. "I don't understand anything about politics. It goes through one ear and comes out the other."

One centenarian who kept her ear close to the ground was 100-year-old Del Plested, who covered President Dwight Eisenhower's Colorado vacations in 1954 and 1955. Del was Denver bureau chief for Fairchild Publications at the time.

Del Plested working as a reporter in the 1950s.

"He looked very good," Del said. "He looked more vibrant and well than in his pictures. His eyes twinkled, and his smile was very warm, and he joked with reporters, and I thought, 'Boy, this is great.' I was very impressed.

"I turned to one of the reporters after he was gone and said he just looked like he would be so easy to get along with and so friendly, and he said, 'Listen, don't get any ideas, because Eisenhower can be very, very tough when he gets mad. Remember, he's an Army man, a five-star general.'"

Still, Del believes none of today's politicians measure up to Ike.

"They just don't have the standing, you know," she said. "We're such a great country. It just seems like we should have more outstanding people to choose from."

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Grace, Ena and Del were three of the centenarians featured by Willard Scott on NBC's "Today" show. If you know of any centenarians who've had a brush with history over the past century, please tell us a little bit about them in the comments section below and be sure to fill in your return e-mail address so we can get back to you for more details.