DALLAS – The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opened to the public Wednesday, with the 43rd president greeting 43 area schoolchildren who were its first visitors.
"It was amazing seeing one of our nation's leaders who left an eight year legacy behind him," said Eduardo Borrego, a 6th grader Mark Twain Elementary in Richardson. He added, "I was like, 'I can't believe he's here.'"
The library and museum, along with Bush's policy institute, are housed in the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The center was dedicated last week during a ceremony that featured Bush, President Barack Obama, and former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, who is Bush's father.
The 43 Dallas-Fort Worth area students were chosen by their superintendents to be the first visitors to the museum Wednesday, said library and museum spokesman John Orrell. He said about 300,000 visitors a year are expected.
The museum includes exhibits on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the Florida recount and other historical events. There is also a replica of the Oval Office, where the Bush met with the students.
Jean Lundin, 65, and her sister, Joyce Richards, 62, emerged in tears from the part of the museum dedicated to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It was like it brought it back like it was yesterday, happening all over again," said Richards of Garland.
Lundin, clutching Bush's autobiography as she went through the museum, had traveled to Dallas from her home in Marquette, Mich., so the two could be there on the opening day.
"I just think politically he's exactly consistent with my values," said Lundin, a retired professor who said she used to tell her students that she was Bush's second biggest fan, only behind former first lady Laura Bush.
Kylie Franklin, 12, a 6th grader at Reagan Middle School in Grand Prairie, along with her sister, Makaylin Franklin, a 5th grader at Dickinson Elementary Academy in Grand Prairie, were among the students who met the president.
"That was an amazing experience," Kylie Franklin said.
She said that among questions the students asked Bush was whether he would run again for president if he could. "He said 'no,'" said Franklin, who along with her sister has visited all 13 presidential libraries run by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Larry Touchon, 85, and Yolanda Touchon, 72, of Amarillo, made the visit their honeymoon trip after getting married April 21 in Las Vegas.
"We just wanted to tie this in with our marriage. He's such a great guy," Larry Touchon said as his voice broke, adding, "He saved this country in 9-11, there's no question about it."
Mike Palmer, 45, came from Los Angeles to be in Dallas for the opening. "He's my favorite president, so why not?" he said.