Troy youth elects to pursue presidential passion
Posted: Monday, November 5, 2012 9:26 pm
On election eve, Jake Underwood is feeling quite presidential.
He can name all the U.S. presidents, from Washington to Obama, and all the first ladies, from Martha to Michelle — in exact order.
He can also boast having letters or photos from three presidents and a former first lady.
It’s all very impressive — especially considering Jake just turned 5 years old.
Jake, the son of Paige and Melinda Underwood of Troy, has a passion for learning all about the U.S. presidents and their first ladies. He even celebrated his birthday a few days ago with a presidential party complete with a red, white and blue flag cake and presidential treat boxes.
Jake’s interest in presidents began when he was a student at Pleasant Valley Preschool, prior to his being accepted this school year as a pre-kindergarten student at Hillcrest Elementary in Troy. His former preschool teacher, Beth Brown, was talking about George Washington one day in class “and it just went from there,” Mrs. Underwood said.
She said her son wanted to know all about the nation’s first president and then wanted to know about the rest of them.
“He started studying them at home during the summer and it went from there,” she said.
From the Internet, Mrs. Underwood printed off lists of presidents and first ladies, as well as information about when and where they were born, their families, their pets and other tidbits of trivia. Jake also began to collect books and trivia games about the presidents and first ladies.
At the tender age of 4, he could name all the presidents and first ladies in order, from Washington to Obama and everyone in between. He visited Hillcrest’s eighth-graders a few weeks ago and impressed the older students with the feat.
“He was even at the pediatric dentist the other day, under sedation with nitrous oxide on his nose, saying the presidents for the dentist,” Mrs. Underwood said.
When the sedation was over and Jake was regaining his thoughts, he noted to the dentist that it was former president Jimmy Carter’s birthday that day.
“It is amazing. People’s jaws drop when they’re around him,” Mrs. Underwood said. “He has an excellent memory.”
His proud mother has posted a number of videos of her son on Facebook — including those of him saying the presidents and the first ladies, as well as videos of him saying all the states and capitals and some earlier videos of a 31⁄2-year-old Jake counting backwards from 100 and saying the alphabet backwards.
Jake’s other fascination is geography — including being able to name the states and their capitals and nicknames, being able to match major cities with states, and knowing all seven continents and many of the world’s countries.
He also studies maps — among them several state maps which adorn his bedroom wall — and is particularly proud of his recent drawing of a very detailed map of Troy. He often uses his mother’s smartphone and gives her directions or helps navigate on family trips, and he once told her he was going to be a GPS (Global Positioning System) when he got bigger.
Yet another Facebook video has Mrs. Underwood giving young Jake a pop quiz of presidential trivia that includes personal questions about the presidents and first ladies — ranging from which president was the youngest and which was the shortest to which presidents were assassinated and by whom.
“I had to write these down so I’d know what to ask him and what the answers were,” she said. “I looked in his books, because he studies. We go on trips and he’ll study his books.”
One of the trivia questions — How many presidents died on the Fourth of July? — was the top prize question on a recent game show and Jake readily knew the answer: three (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe).
“We learn from him every day,” Mrs. Underwood said. “This is a learning experience. He’s leading us with this. This is nothing we push on him. That’s not us. This is him.”
Jake knows there are five living presidents — Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and President Obama — even though he was barely just a year old when the current president was elected four years ago.
When asked which president he’d most like to meet, he said, “Every one of them.” And the same goes for the first ladies.
Mrs. Underwood said Jake has never been to Washington, D.C., but she would dearly love to take him there someday to visit the White House and other important locations in the nation’s history.
“I can just see him bustin’ up in that White House — that is just my dream,” she said.
The second part of Jake’s fascination with all things presidential has involved his writing letters or sending messages via the Internet to several presidents and first ladies — and with good results.
So far, he has received replies from former president Bill Clinton and former first lady Barbara Bush — both of whom sent signed photos — and from former president George W. Bush and current president Barack Obama — both of whom sent letters and signed photos.
Jake didn’t actually write to former first ladies Barbara Bush and daughter-in-law Laura Bush, but rather visited their Facebook pages and sent messages about his interest via computer. Within a few days, he received a response in the form of a signed photo from Barbara Bush, complete with a personal message.
The most recent special delivery came just a few days ago in the form of a letter with the return address of the White House.
“He got Student of the Month (at school) and I was outside taking his picture when the mail carrier walked up and gave him an envelope from the White House,” Mrs. Underwood said. “I thought, ‘How much more perfect can this be?’”
Jake explained, “First I got Barbara, then second Bill and then Obama and George W.”
He is still hoping to receive responses from former first lady Laura Bush and current first lady Michelle Obama.
In recent days, Jake has been counting down the days to Tuesday’s presidential election and went with his mother when she voted early at the election office. His mother held him up and let him push the buttons on the machine to mark her choices.
“I couldn’t go without him,” she said. “He said I had to wait on him to go because he wanted to go.”
After voting, Jake knows that after Tuesday’s election, there is the possibility he will have a new president to write and learn about.
With electing an interest in the presidency at such an early age, does Jake aspire to be president when he grows up? When asked, he answered, “First president and then geography.”
“He told me he wanted to be the president the other day, but he thought it would be a really hard job,” his mother added.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 11.5.12