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Woodbury teen given rare opportunity at Republican National Convention

East Ridge High School student James Fenton was selected as one of two people from Minnesota to work as pages at the Republican National Convention. His mother, Kelly Fenton, will also attend the event later this month. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker

For many high school students, the end of summer means winding down before the inevitable return to the books.

There will be no such late-summer rest for James Fenton.

Later this month, Fenton, who will be a senior at East Ridge High School, will be working at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Fenton was one of two Minnesotans selected to serve as pages at the event, where GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is expected to receive his party's nomination to run against President Obama in the fall.

"It is a very big honor," the 17-year-old said of his selection to work at the event.

Fenton, the son of Minnesota Republican Party Deputy Chairwoman Kelly Fenton, will have his hands full at the event.

According to a news release, pages serve as floor runners, assist with caucus meetings and distribute official convention materials and communications. Two pages are selected from each state. The other Minnesota page is from Champlin.

Among the attendees will be 2,286 delegates and 2,125 alternate delegates, who will share space with some 15,000 media members.

James said he's been told he will also usher a congressman and "a VIP guest," though he hasn't been told who yet.

"As a page, you are entering it a little blindly," Kelly said.

Pages also participate in a volunteer project during their weeklong stay in Tampa, which runs from Aug. 25-31.

"I don't know that I'll see him all week long," said Kelly, who also will be attending the convention as a guest.

The convention will be Kelly's second in row, also having attended the 2008 RNC in St. Paul. She said she knows what a hectic - and profound - experience it will be.

"I'm excited for the experience (James) will have," she said. "Not many students get the experience to have a bird's-eye view of the process (for nominating a presidential candidate)."

Kelly, whose role puts her second in command with the state party, said she had no role in her son's selection.

In fact, James said he wasn't even interested in the opportunity at first. But after taking more time to think - and working the campaign trail for Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Woodbury - he decided to apply.

Lillie, whose 2010 campaign was managed by Kelly, nominated James for the opportunity.

"(James) is a wonderful young man - a natural leader," Lillie said. "I think he has an incredibly bright future ahead of him."

"I'm very thankful for that," the Woodbury teen said of Lillie's endorsement.

Though his interest in politics is growing, James said he's considering other options as he begins mapping out a college career. He said he's leaning toward a business- or economics-related major after being inspired by East Ridge teacher Bob Ramey's economics instruction.

But first things first. For starters - the RNC.

By all accounts, James is in for a rewarding seven days, said Kelly, who added that she has spoken to others who have worked as RNC pages.

"They all say it was one of the greatest experiences that (they've) had," she said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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