As Columbus attorney Ernest Kirk II watched the presidential election results trickle in Tuesday night, he found himself thinking about his high school days more than a half century ago.
One of his New York Military Academy classmates, Donald J. Trump, was on his way to becoming the 45th president of the United States of America.
“I did not see final results, but I stayed up pretty late watching them come in,” Kirk said. “I was thinking, ‘This is really not happening.’ I didn’t expect it and I was a little bit stunned. Be that as it may, I was pleasantly surprised.”
Kirk cast his ballot for Trump, and was struck by the fact that the two of them had a relationship in the early 1960s.
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“It was interesting, because I could say I knew the guy,” Kirk said. “It is not just what you see and hear in political speeches. I knew him back then. And I knew him to be a pretty good guy.”
Kirk first met Trump on the freshman football team in 1960 – both were wide receivers – but they were in different companies until their final year.
Back then, he wasn’t The Donald. “We called him Don or just Trump,” Kirk said, laughing.
Both of them served on the academy’s senior staff in 1964. They participated in a number of extra-curricular activities, including intramural bowling and intramural basketball. Their class was about 100 students, with about 400 in the school.
“Our final year, we were in close quarters, so to speak,” Kirk said Wednesday as he thumbed through “The Shrapnel,” his senior yearbook, at his downtown office. “We were both on the senior staff, which was a group of officers. We lived on the second floor of the Academic Building, all on the same hall.”
Which meant they spent a great deal of time together at the all-boys school in Cornwall-On-Hudson, just 10 miles from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.
“I knew him pretty well our senior year,” Kirk said. “We sat at the same round table for meals three times a day for the entire year. So, we knew each other. We took a senior class trip to Bermuda together.”
Kirk, 70, grew up in White Plains, N.Y. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and his law degree from the University of Georgia. He is a partner in the Columbus law firm of Denny, Pease, Kirk and Morgan, where he has practiced for 45 years.
He has had one contact with Trump since they graduated — in the mid-1980s, Kirk was interviewed by the National Inquirer for a story about Trump’s military school years.
“They wanted to do a piece, and he was becoming fairly well known as an outgoing and successful builder,” Kirk said. “They interviewed me about high school, the same thing you and I are talking about.”
Trump sent a letter to Kirk after the article published.
“He asked me about my family and said he hoped they were doing well, and he thanked me for the kind words I said about him,” Kirk said.
As Trump came onto the national political scene over the last year and a half, Kirk has been interviewed by NPR and the Washington Post, though his comments have not aired or been published.
When Trump’s New York Times best seller “Art of the Deal,” was published in November 1987, he got another surprise. One of the photographs in the book was a picture of the two on their intramural basketball team.
“That was amazing when I first learned about it – way back in the day when the book first came out, my son drew it to my attention,” Kirk said. “He said, ‘Hey, you are in Trump’s book.’ Since then there have been a few publications that have photographs with both of us in them.”
The high school yearbook their senior year has several photos of the two together.
“There are more pictures of me than him, since I was editor-in-chief of the yearbook,” Kirk joked.
Asked if someone had told him in 1964 that he was sitting at a table every day with a future president of the United States, how would he have responded?
“I would have said I probably believe it, but I wouldn’t have thought it was Donald, I would have thought it was another guy at the table – George White,” Kirk said.
White is now in the computer science field in the Tampa area, Kirk said.
Kirk believes Trump will be a good president, with one caveat.
“If he surrounds himself with the right people, I absolutely believe he will be,” Kirk said. “I am hopeful. And I think we are hopeful he will be a good president.”