Kent: A rock star rolled into Kent on Friday with a tour bus, cheerleaders, Brutus Buckeye, 8-foot inflatables and buttons.
This was Gordon Gee’s last stop on his last tour in the last weeks of his presidency at Ohio State. In OSU parlance, he did what he is so well known for — “friendraising.”
He beamed, shook hands, hugged well-wishers, shadowboxed with Brutus Buckeye and the Kent State mascot, Flash, and talked up Ohio and Ohio State.
He shrugged off the crisis that hit his presidency over the last couple of weeks — his remarks about Catholics and other universities that led him to announce he would retire in less than a month.
In brief remarks to the media on Friday, he focused on the future.
He will take a sabbatical of “close to” a year after he leaves the president’s office at the end of June, then take a job as an OSU law professor while writing books on the side.
He may, he joked, run for the university Senate.
He sounded the theme that he has again and again since announcing his retirement — that he is a quirky guy who makes quicksilver decisions, that he would not change anything.
“I want to move on and do something else,” he said.
He wore his trademark bow tie, this one purple with white dots, that has come to symbolize his presidency. So have the annual summer tours of Ohio. He started them when he returned to Ohio State for his second tour as president in 2007.
This time, he made 13 stops over two days with 40 students and staff in a tour bus emblazoned with the OSU name.
His visits are no small production, what with the music system, the Brutus Buckeye mascot, giveaway buttons with Gee’s likeness, clapping students in OSU T-shirts, cheerleaders and two inflatables.
Thursday, he was at a company called Inflatable Images in Brunswick, for instance; earlier on Friday, he was at the West Side Market in Cleveland.
This last stop was at the Popped store in downtown Kent that celebrates the use of Ohio-made butter and other products in its flavored popcorn.
Owner Gwen Rosenberg said she didn’t know how Gee heard about the shop she opened 18 months ago in what has become the rebirth of downtown Kent.
She graduated from Loyola University in Chicago. While her husband, Aaron, is an OSU graduate, he only remembers meeting Gee when he walked across the graduation stage to get his diploma.
But Gwen Rosenberg was thrilled to see the shop full of customers sampling her custom flavors such as Baja Ohio and Black Squirrel Crunch. The latter was concocted to celebrate Kent State’s unofficial mascot.
“This is wonderful, fun,” she enthused.
In honor of Gee’s visit, she unveiled a new popcorn recipe — All-Ohio Coffee, Toffee, Butter, Nut Crunch.
Despite the fanfare, Gee’s meet and greet was over very quickly.
About a half hour after Gee arrived, Gayle Saunders, OSU’s assistant vice president of media relations, swept him away to return to Columbus.
Still, his visit may have helped to recruit future students — or at least one student.
When onlooker and Gee fan Katie Wright of Akron asked her 7-year-old son, Owen, where he wanted to go to college, his response was immediate: Ohio State.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.