by Roger DiPaolo

Record-Courier editor

Forty years ago Oct. 28, a Mantua Township woman stood in front of her home holding a sign she hoped would draw the attention of a visitor passing by her residence on Route 82.

The visitor was President Richard M. Nixon, who was traveling through northern Portage County on a campaign tour on Saturday, Oct. 28, 1972.

The sign Mrs. Frank Lorence Jr. of Mantua had printed in large black letters definitely caught his attention.

"Mr. President, please may I shake your hand," it read. "No amnesty. We lost a son in Vietnam."

Nixon, who was campaigning for a second term, stopped his motorcade in front of the Lorence home to speak with Mrs. Lorence, her husband and several family members.

They told him about their son, Sp-4 John Lorence, who was killed by a booby trap on June 8, 1969, while serving with the 25th Infantry Division in South Vietnam.

Mrs. Lorence said later that she wanted a chance "to speak out" to the president about her opposition to amnesty for draft evaders. "My son was not a murderer," she said, "We brought him up to believe in and obey the laws."

Nixon assured the Lorences that he wouldn't consider amnesty for "draft dodgers ... when boys like yours died for their country."

The president's improptu chat with the Lorence family was among the memorable moments of his visit, which marked the first time an incumbent president set foot in Portage County since October 1940, when Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidential Special roared through Ravenna, but didn't stop at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad station, much to the dismay of the crowd gathered there.

NIXON'S VISIT to Portage County was part of an Ohio campaign tour stretching from Youngstown to Cleveland.

News of the presidential visit was made public several days earlier, and as the week progressed the presidential itinerary was revealed: Stops were likely in Aurora, Hiram, Mantua, Garrettsville and Windham.

What the Record-Courier described as "the most concentrated security effort in the history of this area" saw more than 300 lawmen from 16 different police agencies join with the Secret Service in safeguarding the president, who was traveling with his wife, Pat.

"Virtually every foot along Route 82 was scrutinized for possible danger zones," R-C reporter Jacqueline Seton wrote.

Nixon's 30-car motorcade drew an estimated 300,000 spectators as it made its way from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to Youngstown Municipal Airport.

Crowd estimates varied in the Portage communities he visited, with 12,000 turning out in Aurora and somewhat smaller numbers on hand in the other communities.

A cheer went up in Aurora as the presidential limousine came to a stop in front of Mayor Neal Anderson, who welcomed Nixon on his first stop in Portage County.

Five high school bands were on hand to greet the president, but his appearance was relatively brief.

The next stop was at Mantua Corners; the visit with the Lorence family -- which lasted for about 10 minutes -- took place en route.

Nixon spotted 4-year-old Timmy White of Ravenna in the crowd, picked him up and brought him to his limousine, where he spoke with him for several minutes.

A CROWD estimated at 9,000 was on hand in downtown Garrettsville, where many had waited for up to five hours to see the Nixons. The president and the first lady waved to the crowd through the roof of the limousine while it was stopped in front of the historic mill.

Nixon was running behind schedule, but the crowd was assured he would stop if he met an enthusiastic response.

Nixon seemed to enjoy halting the motorcade for impromptu stops along the route, and did so again at his last stop in Portage County -- in Windham Township.

After he spotted a sign promising "Dick and Pat" a free pumpkin at the Isler farm on Route, he spent 15 minutes talking to a small crowd there. He bought four pumpkins that he said he would take back to the White House for a party there.

"There was complete silence when the president got out of his car ... because everyone was so shocked to see him emerge," R-C correspondent Sue Kauppila reported.

The Nixon motorcade continued on toward its destination in Youngstown, leaving in its wake lasting memories for those who, on a Saturday in October, had interacted with the president of the United States.

Nixon was among at least a dozen presidents who visited Portage County; even more presidential candidates have made the trip.

The first was William Henry Harrison, who brought his campaign to downtown Ravenna in 1840. The most recent was President Barack Obama, who campaigned at Kent State University last month -- 40 years after Richard Nixon bought pumpkins in Portage County.