Barack Obama exclusive: Where are his school classmates now?

By Matt Roper 15/11/2008

Obama School

One is now an army commander serving in Iraq and another has invented a way of eliminating stinky armpits with a tablet.

Pretty good going for any class but what makes this one extra special is the beaming 11-year-old boy at the back, third from the left.

He was known as Barry back then – and he’s just been voted the first black President of the United States.

This class  photo was taken in 1972 and we tracked down some of Barack Obama’s fifth-grade pals from Punahou elementary, a private school in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Diana Wahl, whose brother Mark Bendix was one of Barack’s best friends, says: “Barry was one of seven or eight kids who hung out together. They were all straight A and B students and played on the basketball team.

“He was nice and charming and he was a gentleman to me. He always lit up the room when he was there but at the same time he was also just a Joe Regular.”

Mark recalls: “Barry was and is still a great friend. We did sports together, went to the movies together and collected comic books. But it was when we got out of high school that his serious side took over.

“He matured a lot faster than some of us – I think that he realised he wanted to do something important with his life.

“Barry, me and a friend were once talking about what we’d be when we grew up and I remember my pal saying, ‘Barry’s going to be a Supreme Court justice’. We laughed, but maybe he should have aimed a little higher!”

Debbie Ching, another of Barack’s classmates who now works as a business consultant in Honolulu, says: “He was very smart. It’s very surreal to realise that one of your classmates is the President of the United States.”

Barack takes over in January and has pledged to pull US troops out of Iraq, where one of his old pals Mark Solomons is serving as a commander. Mark’s wife Margaret told us: “He’s very proud to have gone to school with Obama.”

The President-elect has kept in touch with a few of his former mates, even while he was running for office.

Classmate Mark Hebing, an artist living in Oregon, said: “I saw Barack in Portland at his rally in May. We got to meet him and wife Michelle and the girls. Now he’s won, I’m going to send him a little message but he needs time to breathe.”

And if things get too sticky in the White House, Barack can always hook up with classmate Rona Wong, who has invented a pill to beat BO.

Here’s what the rest of the Class of ’72 are up to...

BACK ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT)

1. David Doty President and joint-owner of a restaurant chain, married with  three children and living in Denver, Colorado. Did a business degree at the University of Colorado, then a Master’s in Minnesota.

2. Dean Ando Delegate for the Democrat National Convention for Washington State, currently lives in Oregon.

3. Barack Obama President-elect of the United States.

4. Richard Westlake Went straight into the Marines after graduating from school.

5. Malcolm Waugh Working as an artist in California.

6. Mark Bendix Salesman for a printing company in Portland, Oregon, married for the second time with a step-daughter and granddaughter. Still a good friend of Obama and keeps in contact by phone and email. He met Obama at a rally in the city in May, along with fellow classmate Mark Hebing.

7. Danny Blitman Worked as a location assistant on 1988 film Aloha Summer. Now teaching in a school in Idaho.

 

SECOND ROW

8. Carrie Huddy Believed to be married and still living in Hawaii working with families who face having their homes repossessed.

9. Liesbeth Gerritsen Mental health “disaster planner” based in Portland, Oregon, who trains police forces to respond to mental health crises. She studied social psychology and got her PhD in methodology of social sciences.

10. Pam Vogt (now Reuland) Works for the attorney general in Spokane, Washington State, married with children.

11. Monica Tokunaga (now Traub) Teacher at the Ke Kula O’Eehunuikaimalino school on The Big Island, Hawaii.

12. Lynne Schoen (now Marr) Owns a Holiday Inn in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with her husband.

13. Kehaulani Lum After leaving school, became an aide in the office of Hawaiian Affairs and produced TV documentaries on Hawaiian issues. Now living in Chicago and married to Louis D’Angelo, she is a full-time mum to 11-year-old son Kanani and an active member of grassroots political group Women for Obama.

14. Tandy Chouljian Pharmaceuticals professional, now living in San Francisco. Studied at University of California and San Francisco State University.

15. Mabel Hefty (teacher) Retired in 1980, and died of cancer in 1995. Back in July 2007, Obama named her his favourite teacher for her power to make “every single child feel special”. Before Obama went into politics and not long before she died, Mabel told her daughter: “I know he’s going to be somebody.  You probably will hear about him. If you do, look him up.”

THIRD ROW

16. Debbie Ching Business consultant based in Hawaii.

17. Karen van Zwalenberg Whereabouts unknown.

18. Kim Greeley Attorney for US district court in Honolulu.

19. Susan Meyer Left in 1972 after spending just one year at the school.

20. Rona Wong Entrepreneur who recently developed a new all-body deodorant in tablet form, BodyMint, which works from the inside out.

21. Sharon Yanagi Project director for the Japanese Business Federation, based in Washington DC.

22. Sharon Lai, now Freitas Married with two children, she is the communications director for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

FRONT ROW

23. Ronald Loui Graduated from Harvard in applied maths then spent 20 years as Professor of Computer Science at Washington University, Missouri. Since 2001, he has worked with defence and intelligence contractors on methods for finding overseas terrorists.

24. Mark Hebing Artist living in Oregon with wife Meg and two children – gave Obama up to $50 a month for his campaign and met him at his Portland rally in May.

25. Wesley Wong Internal medicine physician at University Health Services Manoa, of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. He graduated from Washington University and received his medical degree from the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Hawaii.

26. Tom Kriegel Art and Special Education teacher at Dole Middle School, Honolulu.

27. Jeff LePage Diver with the Honolulu fire department since 1986.

28. Mark Solomons Battalion commander and lieutenant colonel in the US army, serving with the 2-8CAV 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq. Married for 15 years to Margaret. The couple, now living in Waco, Texas, have two children.