U.S. students greet Reagans at villa
Stars and Stripes June 7, 1987
VENICE, Italy — American students who invited President Reagan to visit their school at Aviano AB instead visited the president and first lady Saturday outside their villa near here.
"They both talked to us about saying no to drugs," 12-year-old Jennifer Hofer said. "Nancy noticed that a girl in our class, Kenyotta Lockhart, was wearing a pin that said, `Just say no to drugs' and so she told us about how to start (antidrug) clubs in Italy."
The 23 youngsters, all sixth-graders in Virgil Hudson's class, met the Reagans for 10 minutes after the couple returned by Marine helicopter from visiting Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. The Reagans walked hand in hand from the helicopter to greet the children in the formal gardens of the elegant villa.
During the meeting, the Aviano Middle School students gave the president a book of photos on Venice and presented the first lady with a bouquet of flowers.
The book was "dedicated to a moment you have given us that we will never forget," Rebecca Coyne, 11, planned to tell the president.
The meeting occurred after Hudson, who has taught at Aviano since 1973, suggested to his students that they write the president and invite him to visit their school.
"I told the kids that the government pays attention — sometimes," Hudson said.
Rebecca, the daughter of Staff Sgt. Stephen and Rosetta Coyne, led the project with help from Ainslee Rorhbaugh, 12, and Jennifer.
"Our class, Mr. Hudson's, likes to keep up with the news with our local newspaper, The Stars and Stripes," Rebecca's May 7 letter to the White House said. "We read that you will be attending the economic summit of leading industrial Western nations in Venice... .
"Venice is 55 miles from Aviano. I am writing on behalf of my class, and I would like to know if it would be possible to pay a short visit to us before you end your travels in Italy.
"We feel that your visit would be very beneficial to us and the Aviano AB community."
The students did not expect a quick reply, but 15 days later they received a phone call from Jim Lake, a White House advance man in Venice, Rebecca said Friday.
Lake said the president was sorry he couldn't make it to Aviano, but would like the class to meet him at Villa Condulmer.
"We started making preparations for the visit right away," Rebecca said. "We had to pick out a book to give to him, and I had to write a speech to welcome him. Ainslee and Jennifer helped me write it, and we changed it over and over again.
"We are trying to keep it short. We don't want to bore him," she said Friday. "I don't want to memorize it. I want to get the thought down so that it sounds natural."
Rebecca said the class was excited about the meeting and she was nervous. "Gee, you get to meet the president only once," she said.
In her short welcome, Rebecca planned to say, "Benvenuto, Mr. President. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to Italy on behalf of Mr. Hudson's sixth-grade class at Aviano AB, Italy. We sincerely appreciate the time you are spending with us today. today. We wish you the best of luck in your summit meeting."
Following the welcome, the Reagans shook hands with the well-dressed youngsters, signed autographs and posed for photographs. At one point, the first lady joked that a students videocamera was a camera from NBC-TV.
While the president attends the economic summit with the leaders of six other nations, Nancy Reagan will be in Stockholm, Sweden, meeting with people involved in the fight against drugs.