One week into his cross-country trip to visit 50 state capitols in 50 days, Mickey Straub felt deflated.
The inspirational author and management consultant thought to himself, “This trip is silly, as he munched on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of the trunk of his 1997 Lincoln Town Car.
Straub was in Annapolis, Maryland, 800-plus miles from home in Illinois. It was September 2012 and Barack Obama was running for a second term as president of the United States.
The trip had weighed on Straub’s heart for 10 years, but Obama’s second run pushed him to put things into motion.
His goal was to promote conservative ideals by invoking America’s unifying principles, something he felt was missing in the country at the time.
His method was to recite Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address at every state capitol in the country — and to do it in 50 days or less.
But that day in Annapolis was a struggle.
Straub was feeling lonely. He missed his wife and teenaged daughter. He was taking quite a bit of time off of work. He questioned why he would set such a lofty goal in such a short deadline.
“It was a wild-haired, bold, and brilliant idea,” said buddy John D. Morris, the founding director of the Ronald W. Reagan Society of Eureka College, who suggested Straub read the Gettysburg Address at each stop.
“At the time, I thought it was crazy, but there’s something so positively fun about it,” he added.
“What Mickey did, in invoking the great, honorably the greatest speech in American history, is so profound because it highlights the founding principles of this country during a very divisive time and goes back to our ideals.”
And at each capitol, something kept him going, starting in Annapolis. By that point, Morris noted, Straub had been away from home for three weeks, and “was being pushed to the limit both physically and emotionally, and I admired his grit.”
Naval Academy plebe David Gordeuk was walking by in his all-white midshipman uniform.
Straub took Gordeuk for dinner at a steakhouse and bought him coffee to thank him for his patriotism.
Gordeuk in return gave him invaluable advice: Focus on one thing at a time.
“That’s what I did the rest of the trip. I call him my Capitol Angel.”
His wife, Charmaine, a nurse, kept things at home running smoothly, with a daughter who was knee-deep in college applications and high school tennis.
Straub hired a personal trainer to help prepare him for the haul — 14,900 miles and close to 275 hours on the road — and purchased the 1997 Lincoln Town Car to symbolize America’s 16th president.
He started his trip in Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg, and finished at Lincoln’s tomb near the Illinois capitol in Springfield. Straub flew to Alaska and Hawaii, stayed in 33 hotel rooms, and spent about two hours in each capitol. He estimates the trip cost him more than $20,000.
Straub still gets emotional recalling the venture, and says he’s still as passionate about it now as then.
His efforts became part of the Congressional Record in November 2017.
“I launched the trip on behalf of God and country, but it was actually God and country that pulled me through,” he said. “My personal mission now is to live, love, inspire, and serve.”
The trip only took 44 days. He mostly lived off Subway’s tuna sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly, Starbucks, and plenty of healthy snacks. He lost 15 pounds on the trip, but gained an even deeper sense of faith and patriotism.
Straub, 61, grew up in Pennsylvania, where Lincoln’s famous 272-word address, delivered during the Civil War on the battlefield near Gettysburg, was etched into his fabric. He was always drawn to the Lincoln Memorial and mesmerized by Lincoln’s statue and his noteworthy words.
“Lincoln was all about freedom and liberty. He tried to unite us in ways that no speech has ever since. The word ‘I’ or ‘me’ is not in the Gettysburg Address — he refers to us collectively to try to unite us,” said Straub.
“And since many Republicans and Democrats claim Lincoln, I knew he would be a unifying factor.”
Straub worked for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C., out of college, investigating military and defense personnel applying for secret and top-secret clearances. It was in Los Angeles, where he moved in the 1980s while working with Ryan Insurance Co., that he went from a Kennedy Democrat to a Reagan Republican, later moving to Chicago.
“Reagan was a true gentleman. He wanted us to work together. He embodied the true American dream,” said Straub.
His final move to Chicago was where he and Charmaine met.
“He worked hard, long hours. He was very ambitious, and all of that still applies today,” she recalled.
Politics grew more important as time went on and Straub, now president of Sales Activity Management, a Burr Ridge, Illinois-based company that provides sales management and coaching services to clients, got more involved to promote Reagan’s values after Obama was elected in 2008.
He became mayor of Burr Ridge in 2014 and was re-elected in 2017 — and in early 2018 unsuccessfully made a run for the state House of Representatives.
He resigned as mayor last November, mostly because of the time constraints — Straub was working 20-30 hours for a low stipend of $6,000 — and to focus on a book about his trip around the country.
“Abraham Lincoln united us like no other president, and in his Gettysburg Address, he never spoke about himself. He saved the nation.
“The Gettysburg Address contained within it the formula for our country’s future: God, liberty, unity, and patriotism. May it unite us again!”