HOFFSTEDT: What a day it was when I met John F. Kennedy

It was a brilliant, crisp October morning. The election was exactly two week away. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were running neck and neck in the polls.
Nov 12, 2013

My sentiments were with JFK primarily because of his youth and vigor, and a new view of America that appealed to me.

I saw in a Chicago newspaper that JFK was going to campaign in my native Illinois, starting in Libertyville (which happened to be the home of Adlai Stevenson), and would progress southward along the Fox River Valley with stops along the way in the towns of Barrington, Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia, and ending up with a big rally later that night in Aurora — all heavily Republican areas.

The idea of possibly seeing him at one of those stops started to appeal to me very much.  

I called my life-long friend, Arnie, and proposed my idea to him. He felt like I did and said he was all for it.

Our only problem was to decide which city we would try to catch him in. Arnie suggested we try our luck and get to Libertyville early and try to beat the crowd.

We called our respective employers and said we would not be into work that day. We didn’t say why we were doing this; we just made some lame excuse.

I met Arnie at the county courthouse in Libertyville at about 8:30 a.m. Kennedy was supposed to begin his speech at 9 a.m. A large crowd had already started to get in front of us as we made our way to the courthouse lawn. You could sense their eager anticipation of seeing the young senator from Massachusetts. Fortunately, I had remembered to bring my movie camera.

JFK arrived at a little past 9 to a thunderous reception that told us there weren’t many "Nixon" people in that crowd. I began filming with my 8-mm camera and was able to get within a few feet of the podium. Remember, this was 1960 and senatorial candidates for president did not receive Secret Service protection.   

He gave his brief stump speech and then was quickly hustled off to a convertible with "JFK" banners all over it. Immediately, a small caravan of his cars left for the next stop.
Originally, Arnie and I were only going to make this one stop to hear him speak and then probably head back to work for the rest of the day. But when that small caravan of JFK cars started out, we jumped into our car and began to figure out how to get out of the crowd we were in. We pulled out of our roadside parking spot and found ourselves in the middle of the JFK caravan.  

Since my car was loaded with Kennedy stickers, no one told us to leave the caravan. They probably thought we were part of his entourage and so the police waved us on.

People waved at us in my car and we waved back. They probably thought that we were some kind of VIPs.  

We not only drove to the next town on the schedule, which was Barrington, but we drove the entire day in his caravan through all his stops and finally into the final stop at the 8 p.m. rally at the auditorium in Aurora.  

Along the way at the various stops, Arnie and I met many of his staff people, such as Kenny O’Donnell and Pierre Salinger, who later became his press secretary. They treated us like we had been part of the campaign from the beginning, and Salinger arranged for the both of us to meet Kennedy backstage before the rally began.

Mr. Kennedy was most gracious to both of us. He shook my hand and looked me straight in the eye as I wished him good luck.

I remember the day he was elected — our third daughter was born that day. I remember his inauguration speech (“Ask not …”) in January 1961; his press conferences; his American University speech; his Berlin speech (“Ich bin ein Berliner”); and, of course, that horrible day in Dallas — Nov. 22, 1963 — when my president was taken from me. They’re all burned deeply in my memory.

But that day in October 1960 is still the one I remember the best. Those eyes looking at me as he thanked me for my support and that hand gripping mine in a final goodbye. What a day it was.

— By Richard Hoffstedt, Tribune community columnist

Comments

Madmax12

Let's look at John F Kennedy the real man. He was an adulter, a known predator of woman, a liar, and a cheat. Is it a tragedy that he was killed, yes. Was he something special, no. He was the son of a mob involved bootlegger and other crimes, and he groomed and leveraged his son in a life of deceit, scams, and major dishonesty. Such a shame that Americans can be so naive and blinded to presidents who who have absolutely no business being in office due to their known character flows long before they ran for the office of president

Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on GrandHavenTribune.com? Create a new account today to get started.