UNIVERSITY PARK — Sarah Kraatz got the surprise of her life Wednesday.The 16-year-old was looking around a full-scale replica of the Oval Office at the George W. Bush Presidential Center when the former president suddenly walked into the room.I was trying to match the man in front of me with the man I have seen on TV, said Kraatz, a junior at Trinity High School in Euless. He seemed like a normal person.Kraatz was one of 43 area students chosen to walk through the presidential museum on the day it opened to the public.She even got to ask him a question.I asked if he would run again for president if he could, she said with a smile. He said no because he enjoys what hes doing now and hes trying to stay out of the limelight.Kraatz was among those who visited the center Wednesday, a week after the formal dedication of the complex, a $250 million, three-story building with a library, museum and an institute honoring the onetime Texas governor.Before the doors opened, officials held a brief ceremony before a crowd of several dozen people to declare the facility officially opened to the public.This is a glorious day to open this wonderful building, said Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation.Last week, more than 10,000 people including President Barack Obama and former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton joined former President George W. Bush for a special dedication of the complex on the grounds of the Southern Methodist University campus.The red-brick-and-limestone building on 23 acres at SMU features signature architecture such as Freedom Hall, which has a 360-degree high-definition video wall and a 67-foot tower with a lantern that glows at night.Family tiesLarry and Yolanda Touchon drove to Dallas to see the museum as part of their honeymoon.The Amarillo couple recently returned from Las Vegas, where they were married April 21, and made their way to Dallas to be among the first inside the 226,560-square-foot complex.We just wanted to tie this in with our marriage, said Larry Touchon, 85, who stood with his 72-year-old bride. Hes such a great guy. He saved this country in 9/11. Theres no question about it.Joyce Richards wanted to see the library with her sister, Jean Lundin, of Marquette, Mich., so they planned their visit as soon as they learned the opening date.But they werent prepared for the emotions that would arise once they saw the 9/11 exhibit that features twisted metal from the World Trade Center and old news clips that featured the former president talking through a bull horn from Ground Zero after the attacks.Its extremely moving and very hard to watch, said Richards, a 62-year-old Garland woman, as she wiped away tears. It brought it back like it was yesterday, happening all over again.He handled it with dignity ... to help us rebuild.Lundin, 65, even brought her copy of Bushs autobiography just in case she saw the president.Politically, hes exactly consistent with my values, said Lundin, who describes herself as the former presidents No. 2 fan right after his wife, Laura Bush. Amazing experienceMadan G. Goyal, a 68-year-old Plano man, made sure his ticket said he was the first official visitor to the museum, as he was to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.After walking through the museum and seeing attractions such as the Decisions Point Theater Goyal said he was more than glad he visited on the first day the center was open.Its a great lesson in civics, he said. Im getting a glimpse of how decisions were made.This is the 13th presidential library operated by the National Archives and Records Administration and the third in Texas. The other two are the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin and the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station.And this was the last presidential library that Makaylin Franklin, 10, and her sister, Kylie Franklin, 12, needed to visit in order to have seen all of the nations presidential libraries operated by NARA.The Grand Prairie fifth- and sixth-graders were among the students who met Bush Wednesday and said it was an amazing experience.They said he told a lot of jokes, although they couldnt remember any of them. He talked about mistakes he has made and how the decisions he made in the White House were very important.Before Wednesday, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California was their favorite.But now they have to give the edge to the Bush center.It has a lot of stuff we dont see every day a lot of artifacts and the piece of metal (from the World Trade Center) that we got to touch, Kylie Franklin said. Theres a lot of things here that people dont see at other libraries.George Bush led usEduardo Borrego, an 11-year-old who wore a suit and also got to meet Bush, said hes so glad he visited the library.It was amazing seeing one of our nations leaders, said Borrego, a sixth-grader at the Mark Twain Elementary School in Richardson. He talked about how it was hard for him to be president and how he had to be optimistic all the time.He said he wouldnt criticize Mr. Obama because that would be like boasting and he doesnt like to boast.And while Borrego was just a few months old when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, he said it was a powerful experience seeing the exhibit and watching other people react to it.America rose again, like a Phoenix from the ashes, and George Bush led us, he said.
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley