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Day burned into local memories

For much of the population living today, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is strictly a historical event, found in movies or books.

But many others can consult their own still-vivid memories of that day, exactly 50 years ago. Below are a few of their stories.

Karen Frisbie, now of The Dalles, was living in Kingston, Idaho, a young married woman whose husband was away in the Navy. “I just turned 21. I had been to the doctor because I was pregnant and when I got home my father-in-law told me. I just burst into tears. I just cried and cried. He had done so much for the military. My husband was in the service. We were all so upset over the whole thing.”

She watched Kennedy on TV “all the time“ and was excited, having finally turned the then-voting age of 21, to be able to vote for him in 1964.

“I just loved him. If anybody disagreed with me, I’d fight with them,” she recounted.

Dawn McClure, who lives in Portland but was visiting The Dalles Thursday, recounted being a senior in high school in Jerome, Idaho. “I was in study hall, about this big” she said, as she sat in the dining room of the Mid-Columbia Senior Center. “About 100 kids. They did a PA announcement. Some of the kids were crying. Mostly it was the Catholic kids who were crying, not so much the Mormon kids,” she said.

“Until you saw it on the TV, it didn’t sink in,” she said. “Your first reaction was ‘Whoa, somebody big just got killed.’”

She recounted how her brother was walking from the junior high to the high school, and by the time he got to the high school, he saw kids crying everywhere, and didn’t know what had happened.

Tom Graff, of The Dalles, was 23 when Kennedy was killed. “I was operating a gas station right over here, where Auto Electric is. It’s no longer there.”

When the news came, his reaction was “Oh, shock. I mean, couldn’t believe it. And was glued to the news after that.”

Asked if he cried, he said, “You know, I think I did. It was sad. And I’m a Republican. I thought he was going to be a great president.”

Edna Chandler, of The Dalles, was then 41, and working as an assistant in a kindergarten classroom in Hood River. Class was about to be dismissed, at around noon, when the news came. “I mean, it was amazing, even the small children knew what was going on. It was a very heartbreaking time.”

It was an especially terrible day for Chandler, who got a phone call later that day and was told her mother had died.

She recounted how sad she felt that Kennedy left behind a family. “He had children, too, and a wife. I always admired her very much.” Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, was older and perhaps more able to understand, but she felt especially moved by his son John, then 3. “And to see his little son,” who famously saluted his father’s passing casket. “You can just imagine his son, wanting his daddy home. Even the president, whoever, they still have their home, their children.”

Mary Ann Powell, formerly of The Dalles: “I was sitting in sophomore class of Geometry about 10:15 a.m., in Corvallis when the intercom system came on with a radio announcement that Kennedy had been shot. It was strange, the administrators didn’t make a statement but just broadcast the news, so at first, I thought of Orson Wells’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast and thought it was a sick joke or some kind of test. We were sent home at noon and the next few days were some of the saddest, emotional and scary days of my life. Our innocence was shattered and the world seemed very gloomy gray.”

Chuck Ritchie, Tygh Valley: “In 2001 we all remember the events of the twin towers being taken out via morning TV news. In 1962, especially in Southern Wasco Co., the word of President Kennedy’s assassination was mostly via word of mouth by phone. I remember the day sitting in my U.S. history class on the second floor classroom of Maupin high school. Mr. O, Ed Oppliger, who still lives in Maupin today, came across the intercom to tell us that the president had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I remember some gasps and then silence. Everyone was so stunned we just sat in utter disbelief.”

Sherrin Ungren, The Dalles: “I was in grade school, 10 years old when the announcement came to us and I remember many of us just sobbing in sadness. At home that night, my family was crowded around our little black and white TV, seeing the motorcade in Texas, the crowds and then Jackie in that suit splattered with his blood. It wasn’t until I saw those photos in color on a magazine that it reality hit me! At 10 years old, I knew this man was important in my life.”

Anita Clason, The Dalles: “I too was sitting in my sophomore class of geometry, but I was in Ft. Worth Texas. I remember everyone crying and being scared. We were sad, scared, did not know what would happen next. This was one of the saddest days in recent history, and so sad that it happened in my home state.”

Kelly Campbell, The Dalles: “Second grade at St. Mary’s Academy, Sister Mary David’s (something like that) class when they announced over the intercom that the President was shot. We all knelt beside our desks and prayed. Yes, I said we prayed in school (this was in the days we said the Pledge of Allegience every day too).”

Lora Williams Helmer, formerly of The Dalles: “I was watching TV and went to tell my mom, who didn’t believe me. She let me walk her to the TV where she stood in shock. I’ll never forget that moment.”

Marta Mikkalo, Arlington: “I was in the third grade at Rock Creek School, the whole school (about 11 of us or so) sat and listened to the radio. I remember our teacher crying. It’s a moment in time I’ll never forget.”

Carri Ramsey-Smith, The Dalles: “I was three years old yet still remember my mother crying...she never cried and I remember being so confused, everyone was so sad, my mom, dad, neighbors. It is still one of my earliest memories as a child.”

Dixie Parker, The Dalles: “I was seven years old. I was in the second grade. They made the announcement over the school intercom system and we all put our heads on our desks for a few minutes of silence. My mother was waiting tables at Lyons in San Bruno and started crying. Some rude customer said he was glad Kennedy was dead. It’s a wonder my mother didn’t kill the customer.”

Widge Johnson, The Dalles: “The announcement came over the high school intercom. The president had been shot in Texas. School was dismissed. As I walked home, a man came out on his porch on 10th street and yelled, “He’s dead! He’s dead!” When I got home I found my father weeping in a chair in front of the television. He was inconsolable. I had never seen my father cry.”


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