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George H.W. Bush’s Visits To Chicago: Religion, Kids And The Bulls

The 41st president, who died Friday at age 94, visited Chicago a number of times over the years, as campaigner, vice president and finally commander in chief.

  • Credibility:

DOWNTOWN — In a December 1991 stop at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, President George H.W. Bush noted the then-use of hand signals on the trading floor.

“Speaking of hand signals, I saw a few riding in here,” he said, chuckling. Chicagoans, he joked, “have a nice way of making one feel at home.”

Bush, who served as president between 1989 and 1993 and died Friday at age 94, visited Chicago a number of times over the years, as campaigner, vice president and finally commander in chief. Here are a handful of anecdotes about 41:

• Bush made a number of appearances at Chicago schools, where accounts indicate he was comfortable with kids. 

In a November, 1989, visit to Pickard Elementary, 2301 W. 21st Place, Bush told students about how he took showers with his dog Millie. “When she slept in our bed last night, she was very clean and she smelled real good,” he told the kids.

One student asked why he became president. Bush explained: “You have to care about people, I think. But you have to be willing to try, to risk something. And you’ve got to learn that if somebody says something ugly about you, you don’t worry about it.”

He told the students that criticism used to bother him. “Fifteen, 20 years ago… somebody said something that was critical, I would worry about that. I don’t worry about that anymore,” he said.

Credit: White House
President George H.W. Bush with Horace Grant, left, and Scottie Pippen.

• Bush once got a “hit” off former Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas. As his son describes the scene in “41: A Portrait of My Father,” Bush was VP in 1984 when he went to an Old-Timers game with former Major League stars in Colorado.

The organizers gave him a Denver Bears jersey and put him at 1st base. Though Bush had played baseball at Yale as a student, he was then 60. When it was time to bat, he faced Pappas and slapped a single into right. “It certainly didn’t hurt that Milt had served up a fat fastball for the vice president,” wrote the younger Bush.

The two remained correspondents, with Bush once writing the old ballplayer, “With friends like you behind me, I’m more determined than ever.”

• Appearing before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce here in September of 1991, Bush touted a proposed North American Free Trade Agreement that would stretch “from the Yukon to the Yucatan.”

Such an agreement would give Hispanic-American-owned businesses in the U.S. “natural advantages” because of culture and language, he said. He also predicted that every additional $1 billion in exports would create 20,000 new jobs in the U.S. 

“With open trade, by the year 2000, United States firms will be doing a robust business with the dynamic economy of 100 million consumers,” Bush said.

• When it came to politics here, Bush was somewhat wary. He once remarked that he believed the Democrats had stolen the vote here in 1960 to help John Kennedy knock off Richard Nixon. In 1988, Bush won the state over Democrat Michael Dukakis, 51 percent to 49 percent, but he got walloped by Bill Clinton in Illinois four years later, 49 to 34 percent.

• At a March 1992 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals convention, Bush got personal, telling the crowd, “I really am convinced — more and more convinced — that no man or no woman who has the privilege of serving in the Presidency could carry out their duties without prayer.”

He quoted Abraham Lincoln: “I’ve been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”

Bush described a “war on religion” in the U.S.

“Government must never promote a religion, of course, but it is duty bound to promote religious liberty. And it must never put the believer at a disadvantage because of his belief,” he said. 

• Michael Jordan dominated the pop/sports culture during the Bush years. As president, Bush once blamed being late to a speech here on Air Force One having to avoid the leaping basketball player over O’Hare.

But things turned ugly in 1991, when Jordan skipped a White House meeting with the rest of the championship Bulls team. Jordan instead was seen playing golf at Hilton Head.

Teammate Horace Grant grumbled that the team had one set of rules and Jordan was allowed to have another. Jordan later told reportersthat he was with his family and complained that “everybody is saying I’m disrespecting the team and disrespecting the president.”

“I’m not disrespecting the president. He has a family so he understands that,” said Jordan.

This story was compiled at DNAinfo by then-Senior Editor Andrew Herrmann.