In 1928, Larry Aasen’s father returned home to North Dakota from the national Democratic convention. He brought his young son an Al Smith pencil.
The souvenir is long gone. But Aasen — in his 90s, and a longtime Westporter who with his fellow politcally activist wife Martha has attended “many” national and state conventions — amassed over 2,000 other buttons, posters and assorted mementos.
Aasen mounted some in wooden frames. He donates others — worth at least $15 each to collectors — to local non-profits, to sell at silent auctions. They raise $100 to $150, he says.
Though Aasen is an avid Democrat — and his collection skews that way — his collection is non-partisan. His Republican memorabilia dates back to Wendell Willkie. He trades for some of them. Others come from his many GOP friends.
Starting tomorrow (Wednesday, September 21), his favorites will be on view at the Westport Library’s lower-level Riverwalk display case. They include a Woodrow Wilson button, and posters for FDR and JFK. The exhibit runs through (of course) Election Day.
An opening reception is set for Thursday, September 29 (6 p.m., McManus Room).
Aasen will be there. He’ll tell stories about his buttons — and his political life.
Like this one. In the 1950s, he was in Kansas City on business. He found out where Harry Truman often parked, to walk to his office. Sure enough, early in the morning, the former president drove through heavy snow, got out and prepared to walk.
There were no Secret Service agents around. Aasen asked if he could walk too.
They talked about politics, including Aasen’s native North Dakota and Martha’s Mississippi.
Somehow the discussion turned to the disputed presidential election of 1876. As Truman recounted how — 80 years earlier — Rutherford B. Hayes beat out Samuel Tilden, Aasen says, “he really got worked up.”
There’s no question who Aasen is voting for this Election Day. He’s met Hillary Clinton many times, he says, going back at least 20 years.
“People don’t realize how many times she’s been in Westport for fundraising,” Aasen says.
At the opening reception next week, maybe he’ll pair his “I’m With Her” button with one that says “We Want Willkie.”