Our School Pal Barack; EXCLUSIVE What Became of President Obama's Classmates from 1972?

Article excerpt

Byline: BY MATT ROPER

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. 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 DOTYPresident 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 stepdaughter and grand- daughter. 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. …