Former President George W. Bush visited Pigeon Forge Tuesday as part of the Phil Waldep Ministries’ Celebrators Conference. The event, attended by more than 8,000 people, was the first time a former or sitting U.S. President stopped in the city, according to a spokesperson. 

David Wear, Pigeon Forge Mayor, says events like this are the “whole intention behind the La Conte Center, to bring people in, entertain them, but also get them out in the community and spend some money.” 

Kathleen Mancuso was one of the tourists in town to hear from the 43rd President. Mancuso, who traveled from upstate New York, was actually granted a chance to meet Bush.

“I’m really excited. I’m so thrilled. My entire family is military. My father served in the Air Force for 33 years and he died a few years ago, but I really am thinking of him the whole time. I know he would be so thrilled if he knew I was meeting President Bush today.” 

Mancuso’s son is also in the Air National Guard. He asked her to extend the message to the President that it was an honor to serve under him. Mancuso added, “I really appreciated the way he lead the country through 9/11. I really admire his family, his dad, it’s just a real thrill for me.”

Phil Waldrep, CEO of Phil Waldrep Ministries, says the purpose of the event was to celebrate service in America.

He says his goal is to unify attendees rather than divide them by bringing up political and policy topics. Waldrep said the format for the event would be question and answer. His questions centered around Bush’s personal family, his life in the White House, how he handled 9/11 and what went through his mind and his new hobby as an artist painting wounded warriors. 

“Tonight is not a political rally in any form. There are no hidden agendas in any way. You will find Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are all going to be excited about the program tonight because our entire focus tonight is what’s good, right about our country and to particularly pray for the women and men in our military and honor those who have served,” Waldrep said. 

Our cameras were not allowed inside the event.