Obama, George H.W. Bush Salute Volunteers

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama praised President George H.W. Bush’s legacy of service at the White House on Monday, saying “we are surely a kinder and gentler nation” because of the work of the 41st president.

“I am one of millions of people who have been inspired by your passion and your commitment.  You have helped so many Americans discover that they, too, have something to contribute -- that they, too, have the power to make a difference,” Obama told the former president at a White House ceremony.

The Bushes returned to the White House to celebrate the 5,000th Point of Light Award.  President Bush established the award in 1989 to celebrate the power of the individual to create change in the world.

The former president, sporting bright red and white candy-striped socks, thanked the Obamas in brief remarks for their “wonderful hospitality.”

“It’s like coming home for Barbara and me,” he said. “Just coming to this magnificent house and being greeted by this superb hospitality, knows no bounds.”

From his first day in office, Bush encouraged all Americans to reach out a helping hand, describing volunteerism in his 1989 inaugural address as “a thousand points of light.” He was the first president to institute a daily award program from the White House, conferring 1,021 Daily Point of Light Awards between 1989 and 1993.

On Monday, the two presidents presented the 5,000th award to Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, who retired from farming in Iowa to found a nonprofit that delivers free meals to children suffering from hunger in more than 15 countries.

“Our country is a better and a stronger force for good in the world because, more and more, we are a people that serve.  And for that, we have to thank President Bush, and his better half, Barbara, who is just as committed as her husband to service, and has dedicated her life to it as well,” Obama said.

Son Neil Bush, chairman of the Points of Light organization, told ABC News that in retirement the former president has much for which he is thankful. “Goodness fills his heart and you can take away his physical ability but he still has a strong spirit for service,” he said of his father, who is now in a wheelchair at the age of 89.

“When you do a parachute jump at the age of 85, not just a parachute jump, but another parachute jump -- I believe his seventh -- this is somebody who’s not going to slow down any time soon,” Obama said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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