Updated: August 30, 2012 12:13AM
JANESVILLE, Wis. — A breathless Sara Mueller literally ran through the front doors of the Holiday Inn Express Wednesday evening.
“I’m extremely excited,” said the 40-year-old homemaker and lifelong Janesville resident.
Mueller spent the next few minutes telling a gathering of fifty or so other extremely excited mostly Rock County, Wisconsin, Republicans that she went to high school with “Paul.”
She was talking about the man they were all there to watch speak on national television, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. It was one of numerous “watch parties” held across Wisconsin to cheer on Ryan as he gave the speech of his life.
“It’s kind of neat to see someone I went to school with get nominated for the second highest office in the land,” said Mueller, who described Ryan as a very “studious” high schooler.
Mueller pumped her fists in the air, leaped up and down and howled with delight when Ryan finally took to the stage. And like the rest of those gathered, she clapped wildly when Ryan talked about his pride in being from Janesville.
The newly minted vice presidential nominee is seen as a likable, straight shooter — even by many who don’t support his politics — in this south-central Wisconsin town of about 60,000 people hit especially hard by the recession when General Motors pulled out in 2009.
That includes Ryan’s former American government teacher at Craig High School, home of the Cougars.
“He was a great student — an “A” student in my class,” said retired teacher Sam Loizzo, who nevertheless plans to vote for President Barack Obama. “He always went the extra mile for papers and projects.”
Ryan was also junior class president, prom king and on the varsity soccer team.
Loizzo said he got a big thrill a few years ago, when Ryan, on the floor of the House of Representatives, singled Loizzo out as a teacher who had a major influence in his life.
Loizzo planned to watch Ryan’s speech while visiting his ailing mother at a nursing home.
Back at the Holiday Inn Express, a giddy Paulette Remillard, 68, sat resplendent in a bright pink sequined cap and a matching T-shirt.
Remillard, a retired nurse and Janesville resident since 1967, has supported Ryan for 14 years.
“We go to all his town hall meetings,” Remillard said. “My husband asks all the tough questions — like all old farts do — and Paul never tries to duck the hard questions. He answers honestly. He’s a different sort of fellow because he answers to a higher power.”
Remillard sat riveted to the giant wall-size projection screen of Ryan’s speech.
“I’ve got a new hope for America’s future,” she said afterward. “It made me proud to have a local boy go so far. We’ve sent our best to Washington.”
Not everyone in Janesville was excited about its favorite son’s big night. One bartender on Main Street said he was unaware Ryan was speaking at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night.
Darrell Thomas, 59, a retired auto worker, was enjoying a Miller Lite at Main Street Saloon. Thomas had no plans to watch Ryan’s speech.
“He doesn’t have anything to say,” Thomas snarled. “He’s a smooth politician. His conservative beliefs — almost everything he believes, I believe in just the opposite. He might as well be from Little Rock, Arkansas, as far as I’m concerned.”