SMC grad rubs elbows with president, celebrities at White House

Published 10:53 am Monday, December 20, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC - Thanks to a memorable year and encouragement from the President of the United States, Dowagiac graduate Dan Hodge has set a new goal - medical school.
Hodge graduated from Southwestern Michigan College on Saturday, May 1, with an associate degree in nursing.
On Monday, May 3, in Niles, he not only met President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, but Bush used him in his presentation as proof of "the power of education … You notice Dan said government helped him go back to school … He made up his mind. One thing government cannot do is make people be ambitious. That was up to Dan. Our job is to help make sure opportunities are available to grow the economy, but it's up to Dan to go back to get the skills necessary. A final point that is really important for people to understand is that by going back to school and learning new skills, his pay is a lot better."
Hodge began work as a cardiology nurse May 17, earning $10 more per hour than "I've ever made in my life" after turning down three jobs.
For the first time in his life, he looked forward to getting up and going to work.
So Hodge already had a pretty good year under his belt when he was invited to the White House Thursday, Dec. 2, for a holiday reception where he rubbed elbows with not only the Bushes, but also country singer Marty Stuart, NBC weatherman Willard Scott and Kimberley Locke, who launched her recording career on "American Idol."
The White House is renowned for the scenes created for the holidays with 660 feet of garlands, 245 wreaths, 221 bows and 155,500 lights on 41 trees blanketed with artificial snow, plus a 300-pound gingerbread White House trimmed in white chocolate and complete with the Marine Band on its roof and a snowman on the lawn.
It was made all the more special by the fact the White House remains closed to public tours.
Hodge came to the Bush administration's attention in the first place last spring because it contacted SMC "and asked for somebody who used financial aid, as far as Perkins loans, Pell grants, things like that - and they wanted a non-traditional student who wasn't right out of school. There were like 25 people they chose to talk to them. I'd gotten several calls over three weeks from the White House staff. I was chosen. They said, 'Is it okay if we release your Social Security number, your date of birth, name and address?' None of us knew why. They said it was a national figure was all they could tell us. That same day we heard the President was coming to Niles. It was very weird the first time I got a call from the White House, but kind of exciting, too."
Hodge, who works from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at Bronson, was asleep when he received the call from the White House about coming to Washington Dec. 2. "I heard the message ring up," he said. "I woke up, rolled over and listened to it. That can't be! You always hear of scams, but I called them back and it was for real. Two days before I left I got the invitation in the mail."
Hodge said he was accompanied by a friend who got back from Iraq in April after serving 18 months. "He actually went with me to Niles. When I got this invitation, I called him. He was a little excited, too. That was probably the weirdest thing for me - realizing I was inside the White House, looking out. We came in the east entrance and there were five or six rooms we were in."
Hodge, of Kalamazoo, graduated with Union High School's Class of 1991, which won Dowagiac's only state football title.
Previously employed as a factory worker at Contech for two years, Hodge had been laid off after Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He previously worked as a manager at McDonald's, at Ridge Co. for 4 1/2 years and he sold cars for 2 1/2 years at Haggin-Wimberley General Motors.
He is divorced and has three children who live in Dowagiac with their mother: Brittany, 12, an honors student at Central Middle School; and Dustin, 11, and Aaron, 10, who attend Patrick Hamilton Middle School.
In addition to working at least 60 hours per week, Hodge is completing his bachelor's degree at Western Michigan University with the goal ultimately of attending medical school and becoming a doctor.
He hopes to be admitted to medical school in Michigan or Illinois to remain close to his children.