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A Sentimental Snapshot: Remembering JFK 60 years after his assassination

Wisconsin was an important state to help get then-Senator John F. Kennedy elected to the highest office in the land.
Posted at 6:01 AM, Nov 22, 2023

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — It's often argued, Wisconsin Catholics helped catapult then-Senator John F. Kennedy to the highest office in the land after meeting with religious leaders across the Midwest—including St. Norbert College in the early sixties.

However, some people—including Kennedy himself—say the win was so much more than that!

Several people had the opportunity to meet Kennedy in person while he campaigned through the region, and they're reflecting how Kennedy inspired them to get involved in public service and politics.

Some people say it was then-Senator Kennedy's youth and ability to bring Americans together, while others feel like his faith helped secure his Wisconsin primary victory in 1960.

"I'm not prepared to take the view that I know the Milwaukee Journal has taken, emphasizing the religious breakdown of the vote," Senator Kennedy said shortly after campaigning in Wisconsin.

Even after winning the presidency, he continued to express his appreciation for the people who helped get him elected.

"I am glad to be back in Wisconsin, and I want to express my thanks to you for a most generous welcome," President Kennedy said.

Beverly Schoen-Peterson says she knew she had to meet him when she was just 15 years old while Kennedy was campaigning at the Old Brown County Memorial Arena.

"Then when he was done, I followed him to the car and shook his hand five times. I got as far as the car, and realized this was the best picture I was going to get. He was posing, ready for me to snap the camera, and somebody had to stick their hand in there, and he turned. So, I got a side profile. I remember this just like yesterday. You just can't forget, and I walked him all the way to the car, and I stood right in front of the car... I had my picture aimed right at him. He was smiling again, at me. Someone stuck their hand in the window of the car, and he turned his head," Schoen-Peterson said.

Denise Weeks of Green Bay shared a similar experience when she was a child growing up in Illinois.

"It was overwhelming. It was like, "I can't believe I'm actually seeing this person, in person, in the flesh." That's all I can say. We were just standing there, and we were like, "That's him. That's really him," Weeks said.

Many of Kennedy's campaign stops included big venues, but perhaps the greatest impact he made was visiting schools like St. Joseph's Academy in Green Bay.

"It was kind of my introduction into politics in the 8th grade," Weeks said.

"I've loved politics ever since I had this experience," Schoen-Peterson said.

Students say then-Senator John F. Kennedy joked with students in Green Bay and said, "I realize you are not old enough to vote," but that never stopped Kennedy from connecting with children.

Educators at St. Joseph's Academy—now called Aldo Leopold Community School—say it's truly historic!

JFK campaigns at Green Bay school more than 60 years ago.

"That's part of us too. He was here. We're part of history. It's not just over there. It's here too," fine arts teacher Scott Ronsmans said.

Ronsmans said he thinks about President Kennedy daily when he walks past that iconic fire escape at the school on his way to class. It was at that school that Ronsmans also learned about Kennedy's assassination when he was just a toddler 60 years ago.

"I was just a toddler the day he was killed, and I had cousins who were here for a special program, and my aunt was babysitting me that day. We were in the parking lot and my two cousins go in the car, and I turned to my aunt and asked, "Why are they crying?" She said, "Somebody killed our president today," and I've never forgotten it. In fact, it's one of my first cognizant memories that I have as a young toddler, and it's just so ironic that I work here now," Ronsmas said.

Coming up later this month, people who weren't even alive when Kennedy was shot are honoring his life and legacy by performing some of his most famous speeches, including sharing the speech he was set to give the day he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas 60 years ago.

That takes place Nov. 30 at Washington Middle School at 7 p.m.