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Bush talk earns applause and a portrait

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

ELGIN — It’s not your typical presidential portrait: The former president leans against a fence post, wearing a button-down denim shirt and a wide smile. There’s no suit, no stiff pose, no American flag in the background.

“He’s got a bigger smile on his face. He’s more relaxed,” said John Carlson of La Galerie in St. Charles.

Carlson said he commissioned the oil painting, based on 40 or 50 different photographs of President George W. Bush on his ranch in Texas, by Ukrainian artist Vitaly Mikhailov because “I kind of feel like that’s how he really is.”

“I love the way it came out, because it is something different. I’m sure he’s got all kinds of paintings of him in a suit, but he’s a real person, and we wanted to portray the humanity, not the office,” he said.

That painting was presented to the real person following Bush’s remarks Wednesday night at Judson University’s first World Leaders Forum in the Lindner Fitness Center on the university campus, 1151 N. State St.

About 1,600 people were expected to attend the no-media event, which featured Bush’s keynote address, “Free Enterprise: The Dream of All Free People.” It also included a moderated question-and-answer session with the former president and a panel of entrepreneurs.

“It was great to see him in a comfortable setting,” said Samuel Szobody, a junior in Judson’s architecture program. “He was laid back, funny, even eloquent at times — a grandpa figure.”

Szobody, of St. Charles, is an entrepreneur himself, running his own expresso catering and remodeling businesses. He said the former president answered questions about his reaction to 9/11, spoke at length about Latin America’s role in world entrepreneurship and offered advice to a 13-year-old wanting to be president (“Read more than you watch TV” and “Don’t get drunk. Nobody told me that,” according to the student).

“His speech wasn’t necessarily a well-composed presentation with a strong idea, but rather a conglomeration of ideas regarding what it’s like to be president, some illustrations and stories justifying some of his policies, and an inspirational ending for aspiring students. He presented it much like he was in a conversation,” Szobody said.

The former president’s visit was well-orchestrated, and security was in evidence all around the vicinity of the campus. Elgin Police Department spokeswoman Sue Olafson said the city was ”prepared” for Bush’s visit. Elgin police were assisting the Secret Service, she said, and police cars blocked entrances to Judson’s campus Wednesday afternoon.

About six protesters, all students at Elgin Community College, walked past the entrance to Judson’s campus off State Street (Route 31), carrying signs and a bullhorn Wednesday afternoon. Szobody said he didn’t see any protesters at the event, and Olafson said Wednesday evening she had not heard any reports of disturbances near Judson.

World Leaders Forum Committee Chair Kevin Noe said he hoped the forum at the center of those preparations not only would launch an annual event at the university, but also raise $1 million toward the $2 million needed to endow phase one of an entrepreneurial studies program at Judson. Noe said he hopes the university can start that program in the next 12 to 18 months.

Carlson said when he heard Judson’s plans for an entrepreneurial studies program, he thought, “Oh, this is good, because there really is very little instruction for anybody who wants to be an entrepreneur.”

That’s why he approached Judson in the late fall with the idea to collaborate with the university to present the former president with a painting from one of the artists featured at his St. Charles gallery.

Also an entrepreneur, Carlson has offices of Carlson Fine Art Ltd. in Moscow and Kiev, as well. That’s not something he learned studying engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, but an idea he’s had — to teach business and entrepreneurship in Communist countries — since he was 15, he said.

“It’s become a really nice thing, and I hope people have learned about entrepreneurship over there, but it’s people who have never had the opportunity to open their own business. It was completely foreign to them — any type of free enterprise,” he said.

That’s something Americans “absolutely” take for granted, he said.

Judson and La Galerie also have commissioned a second painting of the former U.S. president shaking hands with Judson President Jerry Cain from Mikhailov. Cain presented the portrait to Bush Wednesday, Szobody confirmed, and Noe said the university has made arrangements to send it on to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the future home of the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

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