TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – It’s a special delivery unlike any other.
“I was at the mailbox, she usually gets the mail and I opened up the envelope ‘The Inaugural Committee, Washington, D.C.’ and I went ‘Oh my goodness!’,” said Gene Griffin, “When I saw that I knew it was something special inside, so I came in as quick as I could, opened the envelope with Dona.”
In the care of Gene and Dona Griffin was indeed a special piece of mail. Inside, a letter requesting their presence at the 2017 Presidential Inauguration.
“We saw the embossed invitation with our name on it and the special passwords and everything to go online and get our tickets,” Gene said, “We were both on cloud nine.”
“It’s a great honor,” said Dona, “It’s something we wouldn’t be experiencing if it hadn’t been for good folks here in Terre Haute that have supported us in our efforts to remember not only our son, but the sons and daughters of other families who have served and helped keep us safe.”
“We’re kind of nobodies you know,” Gene said, “You know, we had a loss in our family that’s really turned into, because of our community, a legacy in this community.”
It’s a legacy started by their son, Dale Griffin, who died while serving in Afghanistan. Dale’s story and Griffin Bike Park, which is named in his honor, stands as a lifelong tribute to him and others who gave their life.
“That allowed us to reach a wider audience,” Dona said, “and you know, I don’t go out there and I can’t feel the presence of my son.”
The park, which has been officially open since October 2016, has gained both national and international attention.
“Politics aside we’ve gotten letters from President Obama and his wife Michelle, from George W. Bush and his wife Laura,” Gene said.
Vice-President Elect Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, have also reached out to the Griffins and even made time to attend the bike park’s grand opening. To Gene and Dona, their relationship with the Pence family is one they cherish and have valued for quite some time.
“It started when we attended a memorial service in Indianapolis after the death of our son, and we met he and his wife for the first time there,” Dona said, “and we just hit it off. I think because Vice-President Elect Pence has some military in his background with a brother and son, they were a little more sensitive to the circumstances. They sought us out every time we would have an opportunity to come together again.”
“They’re bikers, so when they found out we were building a bike park, they got very excited about that and have been very supportive all along the way, and that really made a difference to us,” she said, “They’re good people and they responded in a way that any good people would, and we’re thankful for that.”
It’s not just the inauguration ceremony the Griffins were invited to, they’ll also be attending the Inaugural Ball and other events included in the weekend’s itinerary. One of them being a visit to Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath hanging, which also holds a special significance to the Griffins.
“There is a stone there in Arlington that has our son’s name on it, along with his friends,” Dona said, “There’s just so much about Washington, D.C. that reminds us of our heritage and how thankful we should be to live in this country.”
For Gene and Dona, it’s not just an invitation to a historic moment, but also a symbol of the strides they’ve made in their son’s memory.
“It’s been quite the journey for us,” she said, “and what it helps us realize is any of us can make a difference right where we are.”
“We’re just one little couple here that’s going to represent Terre Haute in the best extent that we can when we get there,” Gene said.
The Presidential Inauguration is Friday, January 20th.