By Kristen Miller
Just as those who will forever remember where they were Sept. 11, 2001, so do those who experienced Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
For Kathy Eggert, that day is frozen in time.
She was a 19-year-old college student home from lunch in Valley City, ND. Eggert was attending the state college there for teaching, and would later go on to retire after 30 years in the Dassel-Cokato School District.
“It was an awful, awful day,” Eggert recalled of the day the 35th president was assassinated in Dallas, TX while riding in a motorcade.
She was upstairs when she heard a bulletin come on the television, breaking into programming. Eggert’s mother had been watching her program, “As the World Turns.”
“The President has been shot,” Walter Cronkite announced.
“I was just shocked,” Eggert said, though the news was yet to come that he had been killed.
After hearing the initial reports, Eggert returned to campus for class.
“It was like a ghost town,” she recalled, explaining that all the classes had been canceled and the students were encouraged to go home.
When she arrived back home, that’s when she heard the president of the United States was dead.
Eggert remembers it being a bright, sunny Friday.
“It’s such a moment, frozen in time,” she said, adding, “the whole weekend was so surreal,” with nothing on television, but news surrounding JFK’s death and pending funeral.
After all, it was the early 1960s. “Things like that didn’t happen in the United States of America,” Eggert commented.
She also noted that she agrees with the Warren Commission’s report, which investigated JFK’s death and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot JFK, and that Jack Ruby also acted alone when he killed Oswald two days later.
President Kennedy’s funeral was broadcast live on television, and the day was officially declared a national day of mourning.
“That was the first time I saw my dad cry,” Eggert said, adding that it was an emotional event.
Eggert recalled “John John,” Kennedy’s young son, saluting as the casket of his father passed by. The day of the funeral also happened to be his third birthday, she noted.
“Jackie was very stoic,” Eggert said of the first lady’s demeanor during the funeral, dressed with a black veil covering her face.
“Most people really enjoyed the Kennedys,” Eggert said, “whether they voted for them or not.”
Growing up Irish Catholic herself, Eggert’s parents had been proud that Kennedy was elected the first Irish Catholic president.
“My mom had been a Democrat, but my dad had been a Republican until Kennedy came along,” she commented. “Kennedy was Irish and Catholic that’s all my dad needed.”
Retired DC High School English teacher Mary Jensen recalled JFK’s death and funeral as “the weekend that stopped the country.”
She was in 10th-grade world history class at Edina High School when her teacher came into the room crying after being told the sad news.
“It was so huge because so many people loved the Kennedy family,” Jensen said, adding that even if people didn’t like the politics, they liked the family.
“It was the idea of Camelot,” Jensen said, a term that commonly referred to the White House during the Kennedy administration.
That night and for the rest of the weekend, news surrounding the president’s death was all that was on the radio and television.
She even remembers going bowling that night and the only sound in the alley were the sounds of balls dropping and pins falling as people were focused on the television.
She will never forget seeing JFK’s son during the funeral. “No words can describe seeing that darling little boy,” Jensen said, of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket.
Lois Anderson remembers first hearing the news because she was home with her husband, Carold for lunch. She was an x-ray and lab technician for Dr. Houts and Dr. Johnson in Dassel.
When she returned to lunch, patients in both the waiting area and on the phone would be crying, overwhelmed with grief at the loss of their president.
“It was so shocking,” said Carolyn Holje. “As a college student, you really can’t imagine that happening in the United States of America.” She was attending Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter at the time, and remembers the beautiful service the chaplain gave the afternoon of JFK’s death.
Afraid of the unknown
Lyle Severson and his wife, Janice, were living in Germany when it happened. Lyle was stationed in the Army there and was out in the field the woods of rural Germany near the communist border of Czechoslovakia when he learned of the news.
His friend, who was on clerk duty that evening, informed his fellow service men that “the president has been shot.” Being the joker that they all knew he was, the information wasn’t taken seriously at first, Severson said.
When they realized he wasn’t joking after all “that really brought us to some serious thinking,” Severson said. They even wondered if this would be the start of World War III.
“There were a lot of unknowns,” he said.
After returning back to post the following day, the men were told not to over-react, so as to not panic the German populace.
“The war was still fresh in their minds,” Severson said of the Germans, adding that the Germans even began stocking up on items when they heard the news as if they were preparing for another war.
Days of mourning
The Cokato Enterprise and Dassel Dispatch, published nearly a week following the death of JFK, reported the state of the local communities in mourning.
Thursday, Nov. 28, 1963, the Enterprise reported: “A community memorial service was conducted Monday morning at the Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church with Pastor Russel A. Peterson presiding. Scripture and prayer were read by Pastor S. V. Hanson of Elim Mission Church, and invocation was by Pastor A. A. Blomquist of the First Baptist Church.
“The memorial address was delivered by Pastor G. E. Burton of Stockholm church. ‘Our hearts go out to a sorrowing widow and children, father and mother, brothers and sisters, and associates,’ said Pastor Burton. ‘This sorrow transcends all creeds and faiths. It is fitting and proper that today should be a day of mourning.’”
The Dassel Dispatch reported that stores and the school were closed Monday morning, the day of the funeral, “and there was little activity in the village as the community observed the national day of mourning.”