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Season’s greetings: Morgan resident a Christmas volunteer at White House

March 12, 2021 - 00:00
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    Wendell McNeal poses for a photo while on duty while greeting guests at the White House on Christmas Day. CONTRIBUTED
  • Article Image Alt Text
    A room in the East Wing of the White House is decorated for Christmas. CONTRIBUTED
  • Article Image Alt Text
    The President’s helicopter taking off the south lawn of the White House on Christmas Day. CONTRIBUTED

Longtime Morgan County resident Wendel McNeal got the unique opportunity to serve as a volunteer greeter at the White House for Christmas back in December.

McNeal traveled to Washington with close friend Karen McCoy, who toured the White House while he was volunteering.

McNeal said he was impressed by the organization and staff of former First Lady Melania Trump.

“I had a nice booklet that Mrs. Trump put together,” McNeal told the Lake Oconee News. “It said ‘Christmas at the White House 2020.’ It had all of the different rooms and all the trees. The first thing that I noticed is that it was decked out for Christmas. I was very impressed with all the work put into it. It was an honor of a lifetime to be there.”

McNeal said he was reminded that what stood before him was “The People’s House” and not a political event. The layout was primarily focused on celebrating the Christmas holidays and for people to honor the American history surrounding them.

“To me, it was like a Christmas vacation, literally,” McNeal said. “We left a couple of days before Christmas... and we flew back on Christmas Day. I worked approximately somewhere between three to five hours per day. Like I said, I greeted the guests as they came in. It was a pleasure working for the First Lady because it was her event.”

McNeal said the East Wing was furnished with tons of holiday decorations for the guests to see.

“The East Wing is where these steak dinners are held,” McNeal said. “And frankly, I was shocked to see a dining room table that would seat 100, but that’s where they have all their formal gatherings. So, the East Wing is where the library is and the study is...This whole place was decked out all Christmasy.”

McNeal added that all the visitors were friendly and kind, including the children.

“Many of the visitors were high-ranking officials in different parts of the government,” McNeal said. “It was just the most fascinating Christmas place you can ever imagine. I’ve just never seen so many trees and decorations, so it was incredible to witness.”

After entering the White House, McNeal said that visitors and volunteers were given latitude to tour portions and different parts on their own.

“I thought my feet were concrete at the front door,” McNeal said. “This other lady, she said, ‘Do you want to take a break?’ and I said, ‘Can I?’ She was a volunteer in the past and said I could wander around...I was given a little latitude to walk freely to the rooms that were open.”

McNeal said he had to pass through several checkpoints and present identification to enter the White House.

“When at the first checkpoint...that is where the rubber meets the road,” McNeal said. “It’s amazing what these people know about you and what they ask.”

McNeal mentioned that what he witnessed in those two days didn’t really hit him until about a week later. He said that the experience was “like something out of a movie” and that the experience couldn’t be duplicated.

A unique thing he encountered was seeing President Trump’s helicopter exit the south lawn of the White House, which is something not many get to see. As a member of the Morgan County Republican Party, McNeal also visited with Congressman Jody Hice, where both spent time in his office.

Out of all the memorable moments, McNeal said seeing the rooms in the East Wing was great, but visiting the Arlington National Cemetery was the most important.

“Seeing all the different rooms and various decorations was neat, but visiting the cemetery brought tears to my eyes because you think of all those soldiers who lost their lives serving our country,” McNeal said.

McNeal said he was pleased with his experience because he got an opportunity to witness American history firsthand and behind the scenes.

“This had nothing to do with differing political parties, but rather it was all about Christmas,” McNeal said. “They assured me this was ‘The People’s House’ during that time and that’s what it was about.”