Obama's State of the Union guests, two from Michigan

Jan 24, 2012

Two people from Michigan will be the guests of First Lady Michelle Obama at tonight's State of the Union address.

Holland resident Bryan Ritterby and Detroiter Alicia Boler-Davis.

Alicia Boler-Davis

Boler-Davis is the plant manager at GM's Orion Assembly and Pontiac Stamping. She oversees the production of the newly released Chevy Sonic - "the first new small car program from GM to be manufactured in the U.S.," according to the White House.

When President Obama and President Lee of South Korea visited GM's facility, Boler-Davis led them on the tour.

Boler-Davis was the first African American woman to be plant manager at a GM vehicle manufacturing plant, according to DiversityCareers.com.

Bryan Ritterby

Ritterby describes himself as an "Average Joe."

Someone who is not all that political, and who normally wouldn't watch a State of the Union address.

Tonight, he'll be watching with Boler-Davis from the balcony in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Garrett Ellison of the Grand Rapids Press writes about Ritterby's invitation from the White House:

Bryan Ritterby’s crazy week started on Saturday with a ring from Energetx Composities, where he works as a lab technician, telling him the White House might be calling.

Thus began a whirlwind adventure that culminates tonight when Ritterby, 58, of Holland, will be Michelle Obama’s guest in the First Lady’s box for the president’s annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

“For some crazy reason, they liked my story,” said Ritterby, who has spent all day fielding calls from reporters in his hotel room at the luxurious St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., a block and a half from the White House.

“I’m so nervous, I’m leaning against the wall so my knees don’t knock.”

Bringing in people who personify a president's goals has become standard fare at State of the Union addresses.

Both Boler-Davis' and Ritterby's story fit in well with the themes Presdient Obama plans to talk about tonight. 

Boler-Davis highlights the comeback of American automobile manufacturing, and Ritterby personifies the successes of retraining workers for new economy skills.

The Holland Sentinel reports that Ritterby was laid off in 2009 after working more than 25 years in the furniture manufacturing industry:

“I was 55 at the time, and there was just nothing available for someone my age,” in most local companies, Ritterby said.

So he completed a composite technician training program at Grand Rapids Community College, and shortly after, Energetx Composites hired him.

Energetx Composites makes parts for an industry championed by the Obama Administration - the wind energy business. The company builds things like wind turbine blades, spinner caps, and nacelle structures out of advanced composites: fiberglass, laminates, or carbon fibers.

The Grand Rapids Press reports Ritterby flew to Washington D.C. last night.

Both Boler-Davis and Ritterby are expected to attend a reception tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the White House.

After that, they'll head down Pennsylvania Ave to take in tonight's State of the Union speech along with 21 other guests seated with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Among them are

  • Warren Buffet's secretary, Debbie Bosanek;
  • the wife of former Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs;
  • cancer survivor Adam Rapp;
  • and Cpt. Mark Kelly, astronaut and the husband of outgoing Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.