Obama House home to Macalester alumnae

By Tressa Versteeg

Walking past the stadium, you may have seen it: a house on a corner across the street that just happens to have Obama’s name spelled out in lights, not to mention other signs depicting the president-elect’s face and campaign logo. The “Obama House” is home to Sarah and Jennie Whitehouse and Caroline Nerhus, all Macalester alumnae who graduated in 2000.The Whitehouse twins are natives of the area, and the house originally belonged to their parents before Jennie and Sarah bought it from them. The light-up Obama sign is made of rope light that was going to go up around the porch, but after an Obama lawn sign was stolen from the front yard it was decided that, “instead of getting angry, let’s do something larger and better,” Jennie said.

About a month before the Republican National Convention, Nerhus painted Obama’s face on a sign that they carried while marching in protest at the convention. That sign joined the lights on the side of the house, but the collection also includes two lawn signs and Obama’s logo dangling from a tree.

“We’re now known as the ‘Obama House,'” Jennie said.

The decorations have garnered attention both positive and negative. Some people have honked horns and gotten out to take pictures. After a sporting event between Macalester and Northwestern, someone ripped down some of the letters, and after somebody kicked in one of the lawn signs, Jennie added the Obama logo sign in the tree.

They once received a written note, which read “Your sign is very tacky,” but they also received a visit from a neighbor with rope light of her own. She asked them to make a sign and pledged $200 to the Obama campaign in exchange. The sign was placed at the corner of Ashland and Fairview, but was gone four days later, the Wednesday after fall break.

The signs are a bit of a departure for Jennie and Nerhus, who said they were not very politically active while at Macalester. Nerhus said she was active in one political group.

“We were active in labor rights and labor issues, and we were concerned about the working condition out in California for the migrant fruit pickers,” said Nerhus. “I volunteered to dress up as a strawberry and one day we went down and protested in front of Whole Foods. That was the extent of my political activism at Mac.”

Now, though, Nerhus said she found herself “willing to talk to anyone,” and covered a bag with Obama buttons and a message to ask for one. When a person asked how much for a button, she replied simply, “It’s free, but you have to wear it and wear it proudly.”

“We didn’t have a presidential election during our four years at Macalester,” Jennie said, “but I was not super political at that point.” School has hampered their current political participation, as Jennie is in nursing school and Nerhus is getting her master’s degree in Education. Sarah is a physician.

The future of the decorations is uncertain, but their future political participation is assured.

“There was such a large number of people who did the Obama Works.They would go to a run-down neighborhood and they would do a work day of cleaning, but they were representing Obama. That energy he has somehow created, I mean it’s just incredible,” Jennie said. “I hope that that continues, because OK we got him elected, well it’s not just him now, it’s the rest of us that have to continue doing things like that.”

Nerhus is also excited about Obama’s coming time in office.

“With Obama, it’s always been about the people. You even saw it Tuesday night in his gathering, it was focused on the people, and on the other hand there was John McCain and his private little reception, invitation-only,” she said. “The difference is night and day and I think that’s how Obama is going to be able to get things done, and to stop this polarization of Democrats and Republicans-by really asking and motivating common everyday people to get involved in government again.