Durango residents celebrate in D.C.

Locals’ hard work, patriotism honored at presidential inauguration

“This was the light at the end of the tunnel,” said 16-year-old Hank Searfus about attending today’s presidential inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. The Durango High School junior worked for two years on the Obama campaign and plans to continue working for Obama’s Organizing for Action. Enlargephoto

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo

“This was the light at the end of the tunnel,” said 16-year-old Hank Searfus about attending today’s presidential inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. The Durango High School junior worked for two years on the Obama campaign and plans to continue working for Obama’s Organizing for Action.

WASHINGTON – Several Durangoans visiting Washington, D.C. for the inauguration celebration today will have the chance to see their work come full circle.

For 16-year-old Hank Searfus, it’s the ultimate accomplishment.

Hank, a Durango High School junior and Fort Lewis College student, was an intern with Organizing for America-Colorado – a network of Obama supporters sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.

“It was two full years basically of work to get him elected,” he said during a phone interview from Washington. “This was the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Hank and his mother, Dr. Kicki Searfus, are in Washington for several days with tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, the official inaugural ball and a staff inaugural ball.

Hank plans to continue his work spreading Obama’s message when he returns to Durango, hoping to take a leadership role in Organizing for Action – formerly known as Obama for America.

“People come in for the president,” he said of his initial foray into the campaign. “They stay because of the organization. It’s something that you want to keep going back to.”

Kicki Searfus, 49, called her son’s work in the campaign “hugely transformative” for him.

“He hasn’t even learned to drive yet,” she said with a laugh.

Kicki Searfus also worked on Obama’s campaign, making phone calls and knocking on doors with her younger son, Oskar, 13, an eighth-grader at Miller Middle School.

Tiare Flora, 46, and her daughter Jessica, 27, also are former Obama campaigners from Durango in the capital for the inauguration.

Tiare Flora attended Obama’s first inauguration, but this is her daughter’s first.

“When you’re at the inauguration, it’s one of the most patriotic things you can do,” Tiare Flora said after picking up her tickets from U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s office.

She called Obama’s re-election “a reaffirmation of what we wanted.”

“I feel really, really positive about the next 20 years,” she said.

Jessica Flora said Obama’s health-care changes really help her personally, as she is working toward a master’s degree in counseling and education.

“He is so inspiring, he’s totally changed things for us,” she said of her generation.

Monika Johnson, 24, grew up in Durango, but now lives in Washington. She said her time in Colorado inspired her to volunteer for both Obama campaigns. She was a canvassing captain in the most recent campaign and organized people in her neighborhood to visit southern Virginia.

She said she used her neighborly attitude from Durango and applied it to knocking on doors in Virginia.

“When it’s not an election season, we forget how much we have in common with Americans everywhere,” Johnson said. “We’re all each other’s neighbors.”

Michela Alire, 47, is looking to bring her community to the nation’s capital, as a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe marching in the inaugural parade with the Native American Women Warriors.

“I’m excited to do this. I’m nervous,” she said. “I never thought that this is something I would be doing.”

Alire is part Southern Ute, part Ute Mountain Ute, and lives on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. She was an administrative specialist in the U.S. Army in the 1980s, stationed in East and West Germany.

Nine women and one auxiliary member from the Native American Women Warriors will march in their blue “jingle dresses” in the parade. The organization has 36 members, said vice president Julia Kelly of Billings, Mont., a retired command sergeant major in the U.S. Army.

Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Email sdazio@durangoherald.com.