'Experience of a lifetime': Suburban carpenter ignores nerves, introduces Biden
Many dignitaries were on hand to escort President Joe Biden on stage at an appearance Thursday in Elk Grove Village.
But it was union carpenter Jerry Wenzel he wanted.
Wenzel, a senior field operations manager for construction and engineering firm Clayco, already had been advising the U.S. Secret Service in advance of Biden's visit.
The firm is building a data center for Microsoft in Elk Grove Village's Technology Park, and the White House chose that setting for Biden to promote employer COVID-19 vaccine requirements, which Clayco endorses.
Wenzel, of Spring Grove, was in his element working with the Secret Service on logistics about the construction site. But then he got an unexpected call from the White House.
"President Biden wants to be introduced by a union tradesman from Clayco. It's important to him," a staffer explained.
"I said, 'Are you kidding me?'" Wenzel recalled. "Then I got nervous."
But his wife, Michelle, suggested, "'Just be you. He's a regular guy, and you're a regular guy.'"
So on Thursday, before a throng that included Gov. J.B. Pritzker, numerous members of Congress, state lawmakers, local officials, co-workers and media broadcasting the event nationwide, Wenzel stepped out with the president of the United States.
"We're thrilled you're all here," Wenzel said with Biden waiting at his side. He then talked about how everyone has a different reason for being vaccinated against COVID-19.
"My reason and my wife's reason is for our grandchildren," Wenzel added, his voice sober. Children ages 11 and younger aren't eligible yet for vaccination.
"Thank you for making the safety of our workforce your top priority," he told Biden.
After the event, Wenzel, a member of the Carpenters Local 250, accepted congratulations and exhaled. "It was the experience of a lifetime," he said.
Hanging out with Biden backstage was the easy part.
"We were talking just like we were fishing buddies," Wenzel explained. "He's really easygoing; it's like talking to your uncle. You felt everything he said, he meant."