Saturday marks the first anniversary of President Barack Obama’s visit to a popular diner in West Akron.
To mark the occasion, the restaurant will celebrate the visit, honor the late owner and kick off a fundraiser to install a new sign that notes the presidential visit.
Ann’s Place on South Hawkins Avenue was the center of attention on July 6, 2012, when the president stopped in for breakfast while campaigning.
The happy visit was soon followed by sorrow as the restaurant’s owner died just hours after meeting the president.
Josephine “Ann” Harris, 70, was not at work that day and had not been to work for several months as she recuperated from a heart attack.
But after learning that the president wanted to meet her, Harris went to the diner. “It was the highlight of her life,” said her daughter, Wilma Parsons, who picked up her mother to meet the president. “She loved President Obama and was not going to miss an opportunity to meet him. She was so excited.
“The president even came out to the car and opened the door for Mom, himself. She said he was a gentleman and even more handsome in person.”
Parsons said her mother told her it was the best day of her life when she returned home. A few hours later she was taken to Akron General Medical Center, where she died.
The family-operated restaurant, started by Harris and her two sisters some 30 years ago, remains in the family. Parsons continues to run the day-to-day operations. Several generations have worked there. The menu is the same except for the addition of the president’s order, which is called the Obama Special — Two eggs over easy, grits, bacon, wheat toast and a small orange juice.
In honor of her mother, Parsons already invited the patrons who met the president that day to a free breakfast.
The restaurant will also be selling $12 chicken or baby back rib dinners with two sides from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday — $2 of the purchase will be donated toward a new sign. The restaurant will accept phone orders at 330-864-5513.
The sign was the brainchild of Cynda Williams, who said she was inspired by the president’s visit and wanted to do something that would remind people of the excitement it created.
“I kept driving by the restaurant and looking at the sign and kept thinking that the sign already needed to be updated because it’s no longer open 24 hours, so why not add that the president ate there?” Williams said. “Everywhere you go you see things like Washington slept here, or this president was there, so why not recognize that President Barack Obama ate at this local diner in Akron, Ohio?”
Williams made sure the family was on board with the sign project, then did some homework on how much a new sign would cost.
Parsons said it would be great to have a sign recognizing the president’s visit, but she will keep the old sign in memory of her mother.
“I will work with the company putting up a new sign and we will figure out a way to keep the old one,” Parsons said. “I couldn’t do away with the original sign. Maybe we can put it on top of the restaurant at the crest or peak of the building. My mom was so proud when that sign went up. It’s when she knew this was her place. It was like buying a brand new car; she saved for it. She’d say, ‘Save those pennies, they add up.’ ”
The new sign will cost $4,000.
“We’re not looking for $1,000 from one place or $500 from another, just a constant stream of $5 or whatever people can afford and as often as they want to,” she said. “It’s a grass-roots project just like President Obama’s campaign with $5 and $10 donations.”
People can contribute at Ann’s Place, 1604 S. Hawkins Ave., or go to any Ohio Savings Bank. Information can also be found on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.