Denison wished a happy birthday to one of its own Saturday when it held its annual Eisenhower Birthday Celebration. The annual event commemorates the birth of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was born in Denison in 1890 and briefly lived there before moving to Abilene, Kansas.
Sunday will mark the 128th anniversary of Eisenhower’s birth in a small two-story home along the railroad tracks in Denison. The home was preserved in the 1940s, nearly 50 years after the Eisenhower family moved away, as Eisenhower was celebrated as a war hero and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II.
“We have this annual celebration to show what a true treasure the birthplace is to the community,” Main Street Director Donna Dow said.
With inclement weather and rain Saturday morning, organizers for Saturday’s events rescheduled and moved many of the festivities indoors. The day was headlined by an appearance and speech by Merrill Eisenhower Atwater, CEO of People to People International and Eisenhower’s great-grandson.
Atwater said he continues in his great-grandfathers work through the organization Eisenhower helped create in the 1950s. Atwater said he is the fourth Eisenhower to work with the organization.
“What it means is … someone like you and I can go to a country like Cuba, or Russia when it was the Soviet Union or China before it was opened, and we can go there and learn about their customs cultures and traditions,” he said.
Atwater said his Eisenhower’s ascension to the presidency exemplified what he feels is the American dream. In Denison, Eisenhower was born on what would have been considered, figuratively and literally, the wrong side of the tracks to a poor family. From that beginning, he was able to better himself and rise in status.
“It is the American dream — going from that to president of the United States,” Atwater said.
Atwater lauded Eisenhower for his forward-thinking approaches to issues that still continue to affect modern society. Among these accomplishments, Atwater said Eisenhower was the first president since the Civil War to sign into law civil rights protections. Additionally, he also was the forerunner for the NASA program and the development of a national interstate system.
Atwater said the idea for the interstate system came to Eisenhower in the 1910s as a part of the Transcontinental Convoy to move across the country. The trip from one side of the country took more than two months on a route with broken bridges, a lack of signage and other deficiencies. Atwater said the expedition also got lost briefly in the Great Salt Lake Desert on the trip.
It was in Germany, where Eisenhower saw the Autobahn road system, that he was inspired to develop an American system road system.
In addition to the visit by Atwater, the festivities also included the dedication of 11 new bricks to the Eisenhower monument outside of Loy Lake Park. In total, Dow said more than 200 bricks have been placed at the site in the honor of area veterans.
Among this year’s honorees was Martha Neyman, who volunteered with many active service and veterans organizations including Soldiers’ Angels, the Sam Rayburn Memorial Veterans Center in Van Alstyne and the Eisenhower Birthday Celebration committee. Neyman died in March.
“For those involved with our area’s veterans service organizations, the name Martha Neyman is uniquely special,” Howard Day, who served as master of ceremonies, said. “Everyone knew Martha, and many, including myself, received one of her most awesome hugs.”
“Her absence in our ranks and our hearts will never be filled,” Day continued, his voice breaking slightly.