By Steve Whitworth
Two congressmen stepped up this week to make sure that a group of eighth-graders from Godfrey got to tour the U.S. Capitol despite the partial shutdown of the federal government.
The students took the tour Wednesday, so they were not in the area during Thursday's police chase and fatal shooting of a motorist near the Capitol building, which was placed on lockdown during the incident.
The group from Evangelical School of Godfrey has been in the Washington area this week, but unfortunately, their visit coincided with the shutdown that left many public buildings and monuments in the nation's capital closed. As reported in an article in Wednesday's Telegraph, the group had scheduled a visit to the Capitol on Wednesday, but the teachers and chaperones were told Tuesday that the government shutdown would force its cancellation.
However, in a bipartisan effort, U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, managed to get the Godfrey group access to the Capitol on Wednesday.
Julie Botterbush, a parent accompanying the group of students, said area attorneys Tom Long and John Simmons helped arrange for the tour. Simmons' son is in the eighth-grade class.
"We saw the House in session and the Senate in session and all the rotundas," Botterbush said. Other than the senators and congressmen and their aides, "We were the only people in there."
Both Davis and Enyart posed for a photo with the students on the Capitol steps, but Botterbush said Davis went above and beyond.
"Congressman Davis did a lot," she said. "He was the one who was probably the most involved. He really did a wonderful job, and also one of Congressman Enyart's pages. We saw the different statues throughout. They opened up the Constitution Hall section for us, and we had our own little private tour.
"We were in there close to six hours; it was a really nice experience."
Botterbush's 13-year-old daughter, Kathleen, said she and her fellow students were surprised and excited to get the tour after being told Tuesday that they would be unable to do so.
"I liked watching the Senate in session," she said.
Kathleen said she also liked seeing the Rotunda where the bodies of Presidents John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan had lain in state. She said she hadn't realized Reagan's casket had been on display there.
"They have a spot on the lower level where you can see some of the original
foundations that have been preserved, and they're still holding up the Capitol," Kathleen said. "That was also neat."
The group, led by teachers Kay Helfrich and Dave Schiber, visited George Washington's home at Mount Vernon, Va., on Thursday. Most of the group left on a bus Thursday night to return home, but the Botterbushes were staying and scheduled to fly back Saturday.
Kathleen noted that the students saw "a lot" of World War II veterans visiting the World War II memorial this week. Much like the students' visit to the Capitol, the veterans got help from several congressmen in gaining access to the memorial, which otherwise was closed to the public because of the shutdown.
Kathleen admitted she and her fellow students initially had been disappointed that the government shutdown forced some changes in the group's plans, but she said it actually worked out well.
"The spots that shut down where we were supposed to go, our teachers filled in with spots they could find that were open, and they found things that actually were more fun than the original itinerary," she said.