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JFK: The Local Connection - Part One - "Green Bay"

At age 43, John Kennedy, was the youngest person, ever elected president. Several times, while campaigning for the highest office in the land, this vibrant politician stopped in the Green Bay area.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) - Fifty years ago this week President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. His murder shocked the nation, as people everywhere mourned his short life. In a special report called  "JFK: The Local Connection" Local 5 explores Kennedy's time in our area while on the campaign trail, a story told by those who worked to help him -win the White House.

At age 43, John Kennedy, was the youngest person, ever elected president.

Several times, while campaigning for the highest office in the land, this vibrant politician stopped in the Green Bay area. 

"It is an honor for me to present to you - the next president of the United States,"

Fifty-three years ago, one Sunday morning, then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, walked to the podium of a packed Brown County Arena and made a statement that to this day is remembered and often recalled.

"I was warned to be out here in plenty of time to permit those going to the Green Bay Packers' game to leave," said candidate Kennedy. "I don't mind running against Mr. Nixon, but I have good enough sense not to run against the Green Bay Packers."

In the audience, people so sure this Democratic candidate would lead America to greater heights.

"One of the words that comes to mind is star quality for one and charisma," recalled Green Bay attorney, Owen Monfils.

A senator from Massachusetts whose energy on the campaign trial in Wisconsin was described as contagious.

"People were so thrilled, it was a strange thing," remembered Rosemary Hinkfuss, who helpd organize campaign appearences in Green Bay. "He just attracted people."

An Irish Catholic that won the White House - but roughly three years later - died from a barrage of bullets fired from an assassin's gun.

"The country was cheated, cheated of so much that could have been accomplished," said Fr. Rowland De Peaux, who saw Kennedy at a campaign stop at St. Norbert College in De Pere.

Fifty-three years ago in 1960, presidential candidate John Fitzgerald Kennedy campaigned across northeast Wisconsin.

Often traveling with his wife, Jacqueline, JFK visited the Green Bay area at least three times that year.

"You just liked him," said Hinkfuss.

Rosemary Hinkfuss helped organize a reception for JFK and his wife, held in the Hotel Northland, February 18, 1960.

"The day came and I was told I had to be there two hours early because we had to practice our song - Frank Sinatra had created this song for him,"Hinkfuss recalled.

"When I went through the line and shook his hand, he said "thank you Rosemary for being such a good host and being on the committee."

Hinkfuss recalls the room was packed. One of those in attendance was Green Bay attorney Owen Monfils.

This Democrat, while serving as a state delegate, helped select Kennedy as the Party's presidential candidate - during the Democratic Party Convention later that year.

Monfils headed up the Kennedy campaign in Brown County and worked tirelessly to win him voter support.

"He was a natural salesman, interesting man and you felt close to him just by shaking his hand," Monfils said.

During that same trip, Kennedy visited St. Norbert College in De Pere. Father Rowland De Peaux remembers it like it was yesterday.

An instructor at Premontre High School, he missed the candidate's remarks, but was on campus soaking in the excitement. He described it as electric.

"He was young, he was attractive, dynamic," said De Peaux. "That appealed to people and I think it appealed to the student body too."

Political Science Professor Larry McAndrews says Kennedy found success on the campaign trail in Wiisconsin and elsewhere, by turning what Republicans called his greatest weakness into a powerful tool for success.

"He was a dynamic candidate who was able to use his relative youth by political standards, to his advantage, rather than being a drawback," said McAndrews.

This political expert says no place was that more evident than during the first of four-televised presidential debates against Republican challenger Richard Nixon.

Experts says Nixon looked pale and tired - Kennedy tanned and outgoing.

"He was energetic, he was charismatic and he was telegenic in the first election in which television played a major role," McAndrews said. "He was able to project this youthful, energetic image that really won over a lot of people.

And at the Brown County Arena on a Sunday morning in October, just two weeks before the November election in 1960,  a then-record 6,000 people turned out to have "Breakfast with Jack."

"I come here as the standard bearer for the oldest political party in history, but a political party which is young, vital and forward looking and ask your support again," Kennedy told the crowd.

In the audience Owen Monfils, Rosemary Hinkfuss and so many more - who still wonder - what America would be like if Kennedy's life had not ended in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

"From Dallas, Texas, President Kennedy died today at 1 p.m. CST," announced CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite to the nation that day.

"It was devastating, absolutely devastating," Hinkfuss remembers.

"It was like losing a member of the family," said Monfils.

"The country really was cheated - cheated of so much that could have been accomplished," said De Peaux.


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