Beaming with pride, a band of Minnesotans gathered at the White House on Tuesday to watch a close friend get a presidential pardon.
That would be Drumstick, a 47-pound tom that rose from a farm outside Alexandria to a post as the national Thanksgiving turkey.
Drumstick gobbled right on cue as President Donald Trump issued the pardon in a Rose Garden ceremony.
“Wow, big bird,” Trump said, approaching the table decorated with seasonal produce where the bird perched. “I feel so good about myself,” he added, stroking Drumstick’s white feathers.
Trump also joked about last year’s pardon by President Barack Obama of an Iowa-raised bird named Tot and a flockmate named Tater.
“As many of you know, I have been very active in overturning a number of executive actions by my predecessor,” he said. “However, I have been informed by the White House Counsel’s Office that Tater and Tot’s pardons cannot under any circumstances be revoked.”
Then he pardoned Drumstick and posed for pictures with Carl and Sharlene Wittenburg and the five Douglas County 4-H members who raised the bird on the Wittenburgs’ farm outside Alexandria, Minn.
After the ceremony, the Minnesota contingent was amazed to have been in the middle of it all.
“It was awesome,” said Carl Wittenburg, who, as chairman of the National Turkey Federation, had the honor of providing the presidential bird. “To be in the White House and to meet the president of the United States and the First Lady and their son, Barron — it was so surreal.”
Under the Wittenburgs’ guidance, the 4-Hers, all high school girls, cared for Drumstick five days a week, monitoring food and water, cleaning the pen and getting the bird accustomed to people. They also cared for Drumstick’s flockmate, Wishbone, who lost out to Drumstick in an online vote to select the national turkey. Wishbone was also in Washington, D.C., as a backup bird.
“It was mind-blowing for all of us,” said Christina Kuismi, 16, a junior at Brandon-Evansville High School. “This is my first time in Washington, D.C., so just getting here was absolutely amazing.”
In addition to the first family, the girls met Vice President Mike Pence and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. They also visited the Oval Office after going through three security checkpoints.
The National Turkey Federation began presenting a presidential bird in 1947, but the tradition of issuing a pardon began with President George H.W. Bush in 1989.
To forestall the risk of spreading disease, Drumstick and Wishbone won’t return to Minnesota. Instead, they’ll live out their expected two-year life span at Gobbler’s Rest on the campus of Virginia Tech University.
John Reinan • 612-673-7402