Up-close at the RNC
By Sue Dieter
Throughout the four-day Republican National Convention in St. Paul, 8,000 volunteers provided essential services in the areas of transportation, information services, hospitality, and special events.
Among the legions of volunteers at the event were two 2006 Morris Area High School graduates.
Justin Rohloff was a hospitality volunteer and Tracy White helped with security.
Rohloff volunteered in response to an e-mail from the state's College Republican organization.
"This is the first presidential election I'll get to vote in and I want to be involved," Rohloff said.
Rohloff's responsibilities at the convention included helping people find their seats, the restrooms and the food. He and White spent all of Labor Day at the XCel Energy Center, then worked from 3 to 11 p.m. the following three days.
Both Rohloff and White attend Northwestern College in Roseville, Minn., where Rohloff is chairman of the local College Republicans organization.
Despite the long hours spent at the convention, Rohloff didn't miss a single class. He is majoring in accounting and plans to graduate this year.
White is a sophomore at Northwestern, with a Business major. Likewise, she was able to get to all her classes and participate in the convention.
Rohloff says he really likes politics and he attended his first Stevens County Republican Caucus during his senior year of high school.
He was thrilled to be able to be at the National Convention to hear speeches from President Bush, Governor Pawlenty and of course, party presidential nominee John McCain.
The highlight of the convention for Rohloff was listening to vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
"Everyone was so excited to hear her speech. She was just such a breath of fresh air."
Rohloff was also impressed with John McCain's acceptance speech as well as the celebration that followed.
"The whole Convention Center was like a ball pit, there were so many balloons!"
Of course, the whole event was nothing like Rohloff had ever seen. He and White saw the protesters and even participated in a counter-protest near the state capital.
"It is such a different place than Morris," Rohloff said. "I've never seen anything like it. Some of it was very scary."
White agreed that the whole experience seemed unreal.
"I couldn't believe that I was at the Republican National Convention, in person. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to have the convention in Minnesota and to be able to attend."
White agreed with Rohloff in that Sarah Palin's speech was the best of all she heard.
"She energized the convention and the Republican party."
Because White is a member of the Minnesota National Guard, she was assigned as a security volunteer.
"I was stationed at a delegate gate and helped with crowd flow."
She also got to see several celebrities, including Rudy Guiliani up close. In fact, she took a picture of Guiliani with a friend of hers.
But there were also about 20 protesters right outside her gate.
"They were pretty peaceful, though. And there was a lot of security on hand," including local DNR officer Tony Anderson. "It was kind of surprising to see him there, too."
Overall, both White and Rohloff said the entire experience was "great, just great to be involved in something like this."
Rohloff is staying active in politics, serving as an election judge in Roseville. And he's looking forward to the November election.
"We had about 20 percent voter turnout for the primary, which was about 2,000 people. The projection for the general election is 80 percent voter turnout. I just can't imagine. But it's just great to see people involved."
Speaking of seeing people, Rohloff reported seeing both celebrities and hometown folks.
When he was at the state capital, Rohloff said he was standing a couple of feet away from Jon Voight. The Academy Award-winning actor participated in several events during the Convention.
Additionally, Rohloff ran into fellow MAHS graduates Ashley Dohlen, Kaley Taffe and Chelsea Engebretson.
Taffe and Engebretson were able to attend the convention as guests of Rep. Torrey Westrom. The two were in the crowd when John McCain accepted his party's nomination for president.
Taffe is a freshman at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. She is majoring in Political Science and hopes to be a politician one day, so she was pretty excited with Westrom's offer.
"I had watched the first three nights of the convention on TV and was going to watch it again that night. But two hours before that night's events began, Torrey called to say he had two extra tickets.
"It was way louder, way more exciting than it looked on TV! The delegates were rowdy -- screaming and dancing."
Taffe is excited to think that one day she'll be able to say she heard the president speak at the National Convention.
"This is the first time I get to vote for our president. Who we pick will affect everyone's lives. We really should be paying attention.
"McCain's speech was very down-to-earth. It was like he was talking to us as individuals."
Taffe appreciated being able to attend the convention with Westrom.
"I did my sixth grade Minnesota history project on him and I've worked on his campaign ever since."
Engebretson is attending college in Rochester, so she had an hour drive to get there.
"It was a chance to see history being made," Engebretson said. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been there. There was so much noise and so much excitement. It was definitely worth the drive."