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An afternoon with Harry S. Truman

Presidential antics debatable

Created date

October 14th, 2016
Tallgrass Creek resident Nadyne Nesbitt (center) was one of many residents who enjoyed a mock debate with Harry and Bess Truman, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump, aka actors (from left) Neil Johnson, Heather Lawler, Joseph Fournier, and Nancy Cramer.

Tallgrass Creek resident Nadyne Nesbitt (center) was one of many residents who enjoyed a mock debate with Harry and Bess Truman, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump, aka actors (from left) Neil Johnson, Heather Lawler, Joseph Fournier, and Nancy Cramer.

Presidential election debates are usually stressful not only for the nation’s top office contenders but sometimes even for audience members. That is, unless they occur at Tallgrass Creek, an Erickson Living retirement community located in Overland Park, Kans.   

Earlier this year, Tallgrass Creek neighbors welcomed 33rd President of the United States and Missouri native Harry S. Truman, portrayed by Neil Johnson, who sparred in a lively “Give ’em hell, Harry” debate with current presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, impersonated by local actors Heather Lawler and Joseph Fournier.

The festive event was a collaboration between Tallgrass Creek’s resident life staff and the Truman Presidential Library and Museum in nearby Independence, Mo., with which Johnson is associated. 

Several community members remember having personal contact with President Truman, including George Lund who, as a teenager, was Truman’s newspaper boy, and Judy Turner, whose family lived down the street from Truman. 

“The afternoon was lots of fun,” says Judy. “The actors really played their characters well.”

Wild about Harry 

The fun started when Truman and wife Bess (portrayed by Nancy Cramer, also associated with the Truman library) entered Tallgrass Creek’s patriotically bedecked living room to the majestic sounds of “Hail to the Chief.” Soon joined by Clinton and Trump, the threesome “debated” foreign, domestic, and economic policy while portraying their signature personalities through well-known comments. 

Actors stayed in character when the floor was opened to the audience. That’s when resident Nadyne Nesbitt shared a memory of meeting Truman at a local hospital soon after his gall bladder was removed.

“I was a young medical technologist at the time, and when I entered your room, you shared some colorful language about how and when someone should remove your bedpan,” Nadyne laughed.

Harlan Brockman, another Tallgrass Creek neighbor, can tell personal anecdotes about Truman.  

“I’ve been a docent at the Truman library for 16 years and have enjoyed being part of the president’s legacy,” noted Harlan, who has logged 1,300 volunteer hours at the library. “The event was a lot of fun.”   

After all questions were answered, the group toasted Harry Truman with a short bourbon and branch, the late president’s favorite drink. Tallgrass Creek neighbors and actors mingled as iced tea and cookies were served and while the sounds of “I’m Just Wild About Harry” filled the air. 

The Truman event is only one of the special gatherings Tallgrass Creek neighbors have enjoyed in past months. They have participated in scavenger hunts, day trips, tea dances, nature walks, pool parties, sports competitions, and dining and outdoor events. 

As Judy Turner noted during the Truman festivities, “There’s always something going on.”


‘Give ’em hell, Harry’

How did the term “Give ’em hell, Harry” come about?

The slogan comes from an incident that took place during the 1948 presidential election campaign in Bremerton, Wash. Truman delivered a speech attacking Republicans during which a supporter yelled, “Give ’em hell, Harry.” 

“I didn’t give anyone hell,” replied Truman. “I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”

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