Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2009 | People

From Iowa to the White House

By Shelbi Thomas
Tyler Lechtenberg never thought that when Barack and Michelle Obama moved into the White House, he would join them.

Only three days after the presidential inauguration, though, the former central Iowa regional field director for the Obama campaign was appointed to handle Michelle's mail from the East Wing of the President's home. As associate director of correspondence for the First Lady, Lechtenberg helps lead more than 50 volunteers who read, sort, and respond to the notes sent to Michelle. Each day, he sees letters sent to the First Lady, penned by everyone from military families sharing their inspirational stories to children asking for a picture of the Obamas' dog, Bo.

Lechtenberg, 03BA, says, "We receive hundreds of letters a day, and we strive to make sure that everyone—from an elementary school student to a member of Congress—gets a response from the First Lady."

Lechtenberg, a former Daily Iowan reporter and executive director for the 10,000 Hours Show nonprofit group, never became involved with politics until this past election cycle when he began reading Obama's speeches. Inspired by the messages, he joined the Iowa campaign and also served as the deputy director of volunteers for the Presidential Inaugural Committee before accepting his current position.

Lechtenberg has just as much respect for the First Lady as he does for the president who first awakened his passion for politics. "Mrs. Obama takes a real interest in the people who write to her, and I think that shows a lot about the kind of First Lady she is," he says. "She's just as personable and caring as she seems."

Although Lechtenberg usually works well into the evening, he often stops to reflect on his whirlwind journey from the Old Capitol to the nation's capital. "Walking into the White House every day is an incredibly surreal experience, and I don't think it'll ever grow old," says the Dundee native. "Every day, at least once, I have a 'What am I doing here?' moment as I walk by statues of former presidents and literally feel the history that has gone on in these halls."