BERLIN — One of the most memorable moments of Donald Trump’s visit to Stephen Decatur High School on Wednesday night had nothing to do with politics. It had to do with the GOP frontrunner giving a local man who works for his campaign a bow in front of his hometown crowd.
“Where the hell is Kevin?,” exclaimed Trump in the middle of his 45-minute speech in the SDHS gym. “Get him out here.”
As 1998 SDHS graduate and Trump Senior Advance staffer Kevin Chmielewski reluctantly walked on stage in front of about 2,000 screaming fans in the gymnasium at the beckoning call of his boss, it was simultaneously one of the greatest moments of his life, and a moment that will likely make him the brunt of many jokes with his cohorts.
“We are never really supposed to be seen,” said Chmielewski, “[It’s] to the point that if we are ever caught on camera we have to buy drinks for all the other staffers. Mr. Trump calling me out on stage has never happened before and is kind of unprecedented for someone in my line of work, so yeah, it was an amazing moment, but I’ll be getting made fun of by my colleagues for quite awhile.”
Chmielewski is largely responsible for Trump’s appearance in Berlin, as it is one of his many jobs to choose locations for speeches and events.
“I do everything from making sure there are enough port-o-johns for the events to being a direct liaison to the Secret Service detail,” he said. “I’ve been to every one of these speeches along the campaign trail, but there was something so unbelievably special about having it at my old high school.”
Chmielewski doesn’t give interviews, but agreed to this piece because he wanted to use the moment to highlight his vast appreciation for the community that helped him become the man that he is today.
“I was one of those knucklehead kids growing up who got straight C’s and D’s.” he remembers. “I was on welfare, I never went to college and I should have been one of those kids that ends up in jail or doing dishes somewhere. I attribute my success to the people in our school system and our community who raised me. They say it takes a neighborhood or a community to raise a child, well this community raised me.”
Chmielewski grew up an avid surfer and worked at a number of local establishments including OC Parasail. After graduating from Decatur in 1998, Chmielewski joined the Coast Guard. His dream was to become a ship captain, and in some ways, he still holds onto that dream. His foray into politics was one part fate and another part dumb luck, as his brother, who does production work in Washington, introduced him to some White House advance guys who gave him a shot in 2003 to help manage a trip for then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
Chmielewski fell in love with the job and quickly started to rise up the ranks as one of the behind the scenes staffers that make the world of political events run smoothly.
He quickly became a hot commodity in the advance world of GOP politics, working for former President George W. Bush, and working on the campaigns of John McCain, Mitt Romney and many other men who have tried and failed to hold the highest office in the land.
“It’s a tough job, and it can end at the drop of a hat,” he said. “When McCain lost, I was out of a job, and the same thing happened with Romney. My life is one big gamble.”
Yet, during this election cycle, Chmielewski was courted by “every single Republican candidate except Rand Paul” to come and work for their campaign before ultimately deciding to work for Donald Trump.
“Honestly, the media gives him a really hard time, but he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met and he’s such a great family man,” he said of Trump. “I’ve seen him go up to the dishwasher in his businesses or people in any city we go to and he will introduce himself like they don’t already know who he is. He just wants to hear everyone’s opinion, and I think he’s going to shake things up in this country.”
The sheer spectacle of the Trump appearance in Berlin is something that the soon-to-be-37-year-old has almost become desensitized to over the last several months.
“It is a circus and it has become an everyday thing in my life right now,” he said. “It happens in every town or city we go to: thousands of people will be screaming on the inside for Mr. Trump and thousands more will be screaming on the outside of the building for him even if they couldn’t get in. I think people are just so sick of what’s going on in this country, and they know he will bring something very different to the table.”
Backstage, Trump joked with Chmielewski about bringing him up in front of the crowd.
“He was teasing me the whole time saying that I’d never have to buy another drink in this town again after going up on stage,” said Chmielewski.
“I am not a public speaker at all, but I think him inviting me up on stage is a true testament to the type of guy Mr. Trump is. He’s one of the most genuine human beings I know and that moment was a dream come true for me.”
Another memorable moment from the campaign stop in Berlin was a bit of nostalgia that he was given by his former educators.
“When I graduated high school, I couldn’t afford to buy my senior yearbook, and I had never even seen it before the other night when [former Decatur Principal and current Worcester County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer] Lou Taylor gave me his copy,” he recalls. “It meant the world to me.”
The days ahead are not going to get any less busy for Chmielewski as Trump charges toward the magic number of delegates (1,237) and his party’s nomination. He admits he hasn’t had more than four days off since last June.
Yet, the next time you watch a Donald Trump rally on television, take note that it’s a local man who likely picked the location, set up the logistics, stationed the secret service, and yes, ordered enough port-o-johns for the thousands of passionate Trump supporters.
You might not see him, however, because Kevin Chmielewski’s job is to stay off camera, and out of the limelight unless Trump says otherwise.