BEMIDJI, Minn. In his 86 years, Jim Stanton has never caught sight of a president in the flesh — or a vice president for that matter —but that changed Friday evening, Sept. 18.

He even had a VIP view.

Stanton was selected to sit in a special grandstand section directly behind President Donald Trump during his Friday rally in Bemidji.

“I’m very excited about this,” he said before the event, adding that at 86, it can take a lot to impress him. “It was very much a surprise to me.” The weather was mild for Friday’s event, but Stanton swore he’d stand out in below zero weather conditions to catch a glimpse of the president.

Stanton had to pass a Secret Service vetting process in order to be eligible for his seat.

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He recalled the Secret Service agent visiting him in his home earlier this week being startled when his “Make America Great Again” cuckoo clock sounded on the hour.

“That’s when she knew I was the real deal,” he said, chuckling. “Every hour on the hour it comes on and says, 'Make America Great Again, Make America Great Again' — in President Trump’s voice.”

Stanton stands near his 1971 AMC Ambassador affixed with his "BEMIDJI" plate. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
Stanton stands near his 1971 AMC Ambassador affixed with his "BEMIDJI" plate. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

He mentioned the vetting process included being asked, “Have you ever been arrested?” and he was proud to say he only has a mere two traffic tickets on his record.

“I passed with flying colors,” he said.

Stanton is originally from Los Angeles, but you wouldn't know it. He embraces Bemidji, his late wife Helen's hometown, through and through. He and his wife even graced the front page of the Bemidji Pioneer back in July 1979 with the headline, “California couple loves Bemidji.”

He made the permanent switch with a move up here in 1993.

“I got the heck out of LA and moved to Bemidji,” he said. “I love it here, winters and all. There are worse things than ice and snow.”

Upon meeting Stanton, two things are immediately apparent: His love of both Bemidji and Donald Trump. You wouldn’t even have to guess, especially if he pulls up in his 1971 AMC Ambassador with a specialty license plate reading “BEMIDJI” and his “Trump 2020” hat.

Upon that hat, he proudly secured a flag lapel pin he was gifted by the Secret Service.

Jim Stanton points to the lapel pin he was given by Secret Service agents ahead of Friday's event. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
Jim Stanton points to the lapel pin he was given by Secret Service agents ahead of Friday's event. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)