Taking a page out of history

By on June 14, 2017

Vice President Richard Nixon and Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro leave Nixon’s office in Washington, D.C., April 19, 1959, after a two hour and 20 minute chat behind closed doors. The meeting had been listed on Castro’s program as a 15 minute visit. In answer to a question, Castro said the meeting had been “very friendly.” (AP Photo)

Local pastor reflects on his Capitol days, including accidental rendezvous with future president

It was the 1959-1960 school year.

Dennis Trout, overseer of the Republican Page Bench in the United States House of Representatives was eating his lunch — tomato soup and a bologna sandwich — in the cloakroom behind the House Chamber. The room was empty.

Trout looked up and was astonished to find Vice President Richard M. Nixon sitting in the room with him.

“We seem to have the same taste in lunches,” Nixon commented while eating his bologna sandwich.

“Flustered, I think I responded with ‘Yup’,” said Trout, now pastor at Swamp Lutheran Church in Reinholds.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Nixon asked Trout (Trout was then a high school senior.)

Trout explained that he might seek an appointment to Annapolis or go to college for four years and then seminary for four years to become a Lutheran pastor.

“Son, we need more good ministers in the country; think it over carefully!” said Nixon.

“I recall hearing a voice that was mine but seemingly almost disembodied, say: ‘Mr. Vice President, what do you want to be when you grow up?’” Trout recalled.

“He belly-laughed, whopped me on the back and said: ‘Son, I might like to be president someday!’”

Nixon signed Trout’s doorkeeper pad: “Best Wishes to Dennis Trout – Richard Nixon,” finished his bologna sandwich, and left.

Trout said he never knew what the President of the Senate was doing in the House lunch area. Regarding Nixon’s advice, well, Trout apparently took it as he has been a Lutheran pastor for 49 years.

This encounter was submitted in writing by Trout to the Page Alumni Association when it solicited one memory from each page who had celebrated the 50th high school anniversary from page school.

Trout thought no more about the submission until an e-mail arrived in early 2017. It notified him that his “memory submission” was being forwarded to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif.

A phone call to the library’s acquisitions department acknowledged that it has not been ruled on yet; however, it looks “promising,” according to an acquisition clerk.

How Trout became a Page

Spending the final two years of high school as a United States Congressional Page was more of a happy accident than intentional dream for Trout.

He was on a Boy Scout trip to the nation’s capital during his sophomore year in high school in Muhlenberg Township, Berks County. U.S. Rep. George M. Rhodes, a Reading Democrat, arranged the capital tour. His wife accompanied the Boy Scouts. Trout found himself seated next to the Rhode’s wife on the bus.

“Pages,” Trout explained, “are usually chosen by one of three ways: 1 – you’re a top scholar in your school district and/or state; 2 – your family is involved in politics, and 3 – you’re from a wealthy family.

“How did I get in? None of the above.”

Rhodes had an empty slot allocated to him for which he could nominate a high school student to become a page. When he shared with his wife the dilemma that he still had another slot he could fill and had no applicant, she suggested “that nice young man whom she talked to on the tour.”

Trout, a Republican, accepted the invitation and stayed for two years since the allowable age window was 16 to 18 years of age.

“Although appointed by a Democrat, that party’s page positions were filled, and I was sent to the Republican side,” said Trout.

Highlights of his page career

Page’s days were long. School was from 6 to 10 a.m. daily. Teachers were from local colleges and universities.

“I have pictures of pages leaving class in their sport coats and ties toting heavy backpacks to the Capitol,” said Trout.

“Classes were held in the top floor of the Library of Congress and we had lots of homework. We studied late into the night if House sessions ran late.”

There were celebrity sightings to go along with the work and the studies.

“I saw Robert Frost regularly,” said Trout. “His office was in the Library of Congress.”

When movie stars visited the Capital, pages were assigned to take them on personal tours. Trout served as tour guide for Roy Rogers, Connie Stevens, Ephraim Zimbalist Jr., and Ralph Bellamy.

“I was there when Alaska and Hawaii became states,” said Trout. “Especially with Hawaii’s statehood, the well-guarded doors were opened and there were many parties.”

On a serious note, Trout’s job as overseer entailed much responsibility. He’d study the details of the day’s House schedule, often over lunch. He was responsible for all page assignments. Many times this entailed carrying a bill to another location or person.

“Every congressman had a light on his desk. When he/she pushed the button, a page was summoned,” said Trout. “A light can indicate most anything. I saw a doctor die on the floor of the House and a Congressman fall over.”

“I was present for Dick Clark’s testimony on hearings for nepotism. My service was during the Civil Rights era and I have a copy of the Hearing Book on Civil Rights for the Congressional Record.”

While he escorted celebrities, he bore witness to the world’s leaders.

“I saw many government dignitaries, such as Khrushchev and the president of El Salvador,” he said “In particular, Castro impressed me as belligerent due to a personal experience.”

He’d sent a page to deliver a bill. The ashen looking page returned, saying “I thought I was dead.”

When the elevator doors opened, the page got in to do his errand. One of Castro’s body guards entered the elevator and immediately slammed the page against the wall. When the page stood up after the elevator door opened and he looked out, he glimpsed Castro in his convertible, with his own security men riding on all four fenders.

The significance of his experience

“I realize how fortunate I was to see history in the making,” even though that sounds trite, said Trout.

Keeping up with the news, taking seriously Americans’ freedom and voting, are important to him.

“At graduation I was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award,” said Trout.

(When Trout’s church burned in 2010, he lost much of his page memorabilia. His daughter wrote to the Page Association and explained that having a copy of his diploma would mean much to him.

For whatever reason the Page Association didn’t have a copy of his diploma. Therefore, a new one was issued. Both Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner signed the re-issued one.

Trout remarked that it appears the diploma was “one of the few things that the two of them could both agree to sign.”)

“My experience was a good one. My yearbook picture caption states, “Dennis is the epitome of all that’s Pennsylvania Dutch and Northern Yankee… One day Dennis will open the House session with prayer as Chaplain. And, I did that!”

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One Comment

  1. BARRY BENCE

    June 15, 2017 at 9:44 am

    This is an amazing and inspirational story. Thanks to Pastor Trout for sharing it with us. In light of recent tragic events involving members of Congress, it’s good to remember our heritage that binds us together.

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