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She was a ‘Kennedy Girl’ on JFK’s 1960 campaign trail

A member of the Young Democrats Club remembers traveling to one of JFK's campaign speeches to pull for the future president.

She was a 'Kennedy Girl' on JFK's 1960 campaign trail

My parents were staunch Democrats: My mother worked for the United Auto Workers and my father worked in a union shop. Growing up, it was ingrained in me that the Democrats supported the working class, which certainly described my family. Consequently, when I was 12 years old in 1960, I joined the Young Democrats Club of Owosso, Michigan.

Once the club learned the Democratic presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, would be traveling by train to Owosso for one of his whistle-stop campaign speeches, our club went into high gear in preparation. We donned old-fashioned straw boater hats with patriotic red, white and blue hatbands and called ourselves “Kennedy Girls” or “Kennedy Boys.” We were given all kinds of campaign literature to pass out to the crowd awaiting the future president’s arrival.

What a thrill it was when the train pulled into the station and the great man himself appeared! Even though more than 50 years have passed since that day, I’ll never forget how exciting the moment was. I was so very proud to be a small part of President Kennedy’s winning campaign.

Vivian Wahl • South Boardman, MI

Photo Credit: Abbie Rowe, National Park Service, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Teri Sickels November 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm

That was a wonderful story, especially as I am a retired UAW member now and as a child, JFK was an icon in our household.
I was in kindergarten one day and all the teachers got called out of the room over the loud speaker. When my teacher came back in, she was crying really hard and was telling us to grab our things and go straight home right away. I am walking up our street and see all the moms together outside crying. By this time, all of us kids are terrified, and then they told us about JFK assassination. It was like losing a member of the family. Wish I had some wonderful memories like you do, and so glad you learned about politics at a young age. :-)

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Gail Stevens November 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm

I WAS JUST GOING TO BE ABLE TO VOTE FOR THE FIRST TIME AND I WAS DEFINITLY GOING TO VOTE FOR JOHN KENNEDY. WHEN HE WAS SHOT, I WAS DEVISTATED. I DIDNT LIKE HIS VP. WE HAD TO WORK ON THE DAY THAT HIS FUNERAL WAS TELEVISED, SO I CARRIED MY TEN INCH TV (IT WAS PRETTY HEAVY THEN) IN THE OFFICE AND WE WATCHED THE PARADE IN MY OFFICE ON OUR LUNCH HOUR. LOTS OF OUR EMPLOYEES WATCH TOO. I CRIED AND SAW LITTLE JOHN JOHN SALUTE AND EVERONE IN MY OFFICE HAD TO USE A TISSUE. I AM RETIRED NOW AND WHEN I SEE A PICTURE OF HIM, I OFTEN THINK ABOUT THAT DAY.

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Nancy Baker November 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

I’ll always remember my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Alexander being called into the hallways and her coming back in the room with tears in her eyes telling us our President JFK had been shot in Dallas, Texas and died. Buses came to take us home almost immediately. My retired Naval Cheif father sat in front of the TV for 3 solid days….it was the first time I saw him cry.
My father is gone now but I never see a picture of JFK without remembering those 3 days and how badly my father took his Commander in Cheif being killed.

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chris perkins-denman November 14, 2013 at 5:33 am

I remember that day. i was home from school sick i most have been in second grade. i was watching tv when it came on the tv set . i went to the kitchen to get my older sister who had stayed home to take care of me. we stayed and watch the tv set all day.it was sad day for the nation.

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Bill Barnes November 15, 2013 at 5:17 am

I was a 32 year old code clerk at the U.S. Consulate general in Hong Kong when President Kennedy was killed. It was a new job and there was apparently a personality clash between me and my new boss. I never knew why he disliked me so much! He gave me a hard time and then on top of all that, President Kennedy was killed in my home town of Dallas! When I would tell people where I was from, they invariably would look down to avoid my eyes! I was miserable that Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was the saddest time of my life! I resigned my job and got back to Dallas on January1, 1964 just in time to watch the Cotton Bowl Game on TV! Everthing worked out in the end!

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Dave Bruckman November 17, 2013 at 9:55 am

Vivian, I too was 12 years old when JFK came rolling into Owosso on the rear of a train. It was in West Town in an area east of Chipman st. I lived 4 blocks away and a neighbor and I walked down to be apart of all the hype of JFK coming to town. I also remember the “Kennedy Girls” with the white straw hats. The excitement is very vivid in my mind. He gave a brief speech, although I don’t remember a word of what was said, except for one phrase. As he was speaking someone in the crowd yelled out “boo”. He (JFK) stopped immediately and said “you may boo it,but you can’t eat it”. Wish I could remember what JFK said to get the boo but his response to it got a big applause. Do you remember this? Watching everything on TV about the 50th anniversary of his death bring s back these memories. Thanks for posting your memories!

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Eriadna Blumenfeld November 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm

My sister and I were attending college in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and that afternoon, we were returning home when we saw some people very excited telling that the president was shot to death. I will never forget that day.

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Priscilla LeJeune January 10, 2014 at 11:30 pm

Always wished I had been old enough to campaign & vote for JFK, & later JFK Jr.

That day was 8 days before my 4th birthday, and I remember every detail of that day and weekend.

I remember sitting on the arm of the sofa with my arm around my dad’s neck & asking him why they had killed my president. I found it strange that he didn’t answer right away. Finally he said, “Daddy don’t know darling, Daddy just don’t know.” It was one of the few times in my life that my dad didn’t have the answer. I laid my head on his shoulder and said a prayer for Caroline & John and thought how lonely they would be in that big old house without their dad.

We camped out on the sofa the entire weekend watching all of the TV coverage in silence. At one point I looked down the dark corridor of our shotgun house to see my mom standing on the other end washing dishes, & I thought she mustn’t know, she couldn’t possibly know; how could she just stand there washing dishes like nothing had happened. Then she picked up the corner of her apron and brought it to her eyes, and I knew that she knew, that she was feeling the same thing Daddy & I were feeling, what the whole country was feeling, and strangely somehow that comforted me.

I’ve never forgotten that day or that shared feeling of profound loss, but I still can’t remember my 4th birthday.

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