If 40 years ago someone told then Ohio State President Novice Fawcett that 18-year-old OSU freshman John Kasich would one day be governor, he likely would not have been surprised.
In October of 1970, Kasich was completing his first month of school on the Columbus campus and found that he wasn’t a fan of all the rules.
At the time, he figured if he was going to complain to someone, the only one worth complaining to would be the university president.
After a period of time trying persistently to persuade President Novice Fawcett’s secretary to schedule an appointment, Kasich was finally able to win a few minutes after politely threatening to camp outside his office.
Granted an audience with the most powerful man on campus, he stated his case. Impressed with this teen from McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, Fawcett asked him what his plans were in life.
“I don’t know what I want to do but looking at this office and these rugs and everything else maybe this is the job for me, what do you do?” Kasich recalled asking Fawcett.
Fawcett outlined the rigors of a university president’s job, the academic responsibilities, the fundraising aspects, dealing with the board of trustees — but he also mentioned something else to Kasich, that he was going to the White House the next day to meet with President Richard Nixon.
Feeling empowered, Kasich asked flat out “can I go with you because I’d like to talk to him, too?” he said.
To which Fawcett wasted no time in answering, “No.”
Thinking quickly, Kasich came up with a plan B.
“I said, ‘well if I write a letter can you give it to the president.’ He said I could do that, so I wrote a letter,” said Kasich.
The letter let President Nixon know all the things he was thinking, the things that were on the minds of kids his age on college campuses all over the country. Keep in mind this was just five months after the shootings at Kent State.
Kasich went on to add at the bottom of his presidential note a P.S. “If you’d like to discuss this letter with me further, let me know.”
He dropped the letter off at Fawcett’s office not knowing if he would really deliver it or if President Nixon would actually read it. Both questions were answered a few weeks later when in the mail appeared an envelope on White House stationary.
It was a letter from the president thanking Kasich for his letter, which he found intriguing and thoughtful. Then came the kicker, the response to Kasich’s “P.S.” with the president saying yes he would like to meet with him at the White House.
“I called home and my mom, who’s kind of in and out of the loop,” recalled Kasich, “she answers the phone I said ‘Mom, I’m gonna need an airline ticket. The President of the United States would like to have a meeting with me in the Oval Office. And she’s shouting ‘honey, pick up the phone there’s something wrong with Johnny.’”
Kasich finally convinced his parents that he was indeed fine and that this was for real. And in December of 1970, off to Washington, D.C. he went. He was told as he waited he’d have five minutes with the president, but once he got into the Oval Office and the two sat talking, that five minutes stretched into 10, 15, 20 minutes. The first-term college freshman and the leader of the free world were picking each other’s brains.
The most amazing part of the story is that a mere 12 years later, Kasich would be elected to Congress. He would go on to serve in the House of Representatives for nine terms — and if you were to take all the time he spent alone in the Oval Office over those 18 years, it wouldn’t equal the 20 minutes he got that day.
“What can I say, I peaked at the age of 18,” quipped Kasich.
In the oft-told story, Kasich believes, is a lesson for young Ohioans.
“I just want people to know if I could get here anybody can get anywhere they want,” he said. “I just so much love kids and I want kids to have exactly what I had in my life. I want them to think big. I want them to dream big.”