Bart Yates was just 16 when he served as a Senate page from January to June 1990. Although those were tumultuous times — The U.S. invaded Panama, entered a recession, and the Gulf War began — and there were plenty of disagreements between Republicans and Democrats, Yates doesn't believe the partisanship was as divisive then as it has been in recent years.
"I can remember some great debates between the senators," recalls Yates, who at the time was a junior at Klamath Union High School. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, great arguments.' For me it was a great time. It's amazing to be in that process and see it play out in front of you."
The son of Doug and Kathy Yates of Klamath Falls, Bart Yates was selected for the program by Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood and apparently was the first-ever page from Southern Oregon.
"It was a great experience," Yates, a 43-year-old Air Force colonel and a pilot, says during a telephone interview. "Being 16 years old and being exposed to the political process was eye-opening and very rewarding."
Yates currently attends the Eisenhower School of the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. He was a squadron commander for high-altitude, unmanned surveillance aircraft and was assigned to the Pentagon before beginning studies at Fort McNair.
Yates, his wife, Jenny, and their three elementary school-age children live in Annandale, Virginia, and have been in the Washington area for three years.
He lived with other Senate pages in a since-razed House of Representatives office building on Capitol Hill. They left at 6 a.m. weekdays to go to the Library of Congress, where school was held, before going to the Senate floor, where they distributed materials for that day's session. In an era before cellphones, text messages, social media and the World Wide Web, pages hand-delivered messages and correspondence to various offices, sometimes walking or riding the underground subway.
Yates regards his time in Washington as remarkable because "you're so close to so many historical sites," such as Mount Vernon, Valley Forge, Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Antietam and Arlington National Cemetery. "There's a lot here to explore," Yates says.
His parents remember their son's times in D.C. fondly and proudly.
"We still have Bart's complete page trunk," his mother, Kathy, says. "He was an avid historian at that time, collecting legally everything he could get his hands on. He had great stories when he came home, plus a photo with each senator. He had his favorites. He still researches genealogy at the National Archives, and I don't know if he'll ever come back voluntarily because of access in the nation's capitol to the wealth of information that resides there."
Bart Yates believes the idea to apply for the page program stemmed from an earlier Washington visit with his parents that included watching the Senate in session.
"My mom saw the pages working and she put it in the back of her mind that that would be an interesting thing to do."
His parents credit their son's success to his involvement in Boy Scouts, teachers and staff at Roosevelt Elementary and Klamath Union High school, Young Life and "many folks who cared about the kids."
After graduating from KU, Yates earned a business degree from Oregon State University, then joined the Air Force. Now, with 20-plus years of service, he's unsure whether he'll remain in the Air Force or take on a new career. Whatever he does, he looks forward to new challenges.
"I've been fortunate in my life in having different experiences, and being a page was one of them," Yates says. "It was a great time, and I encourage any 14- or 15-year-old to think about it."