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Faculty reflect on 53rd anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Nov. 22, 2016, marked the 53rd anniversary of the death of the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. Many members of the Loyola High School faculty remember the day as if it was yesterday, with the event seared into their memories as one of the darkest moments in American history.

In 1963 the world was on the brink of nuclear war, yet the American people were optimistic due to the buoyant economy, the lowered unemployment rate and the extremely charismatic president at the time, John F. Kennedy.

English teacher Mary Arney said she remembers Nov. 22 as a typical Friday in the second grade. “Sister Gueretti, my teacher at the time, was called out into the hall by the principal, Sister Rosemary, and when she came back, her eyes welled up with tears,” Arney said. “It was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop, and as we watched Walter Cronkite deliver news of the assassination on a television that was rolled into the room, many of us cried, too.”

Arney said she did not understand fully the severity of the event at the time. “I remember complaining that the cartoons I liked and the Thanksgiving Day Parade were not on TV because of the all-day coverage of Kennedy’s body lying in state and the funeral thereafter,” she said.

Arney said her father explained the magnitude of the event to her. She said, “My father said to me, ‘Mary, our president has died. It is important not only for the the United States but for the world to grieve the death of John Kennedy before we can go back to watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade.’”

Counselor Dele Varga remembers being in school in Kennedy’s home state in 1963. “I was in the seventh grade at the Immaculate Conception School in Lowell, Massachusetts. It was a Friday afternoon and I was in my art class. Someone knocked at the door and my teacher, Sister St. Mark, told us that President Kennedy had been shot. The school let us out early, and I ran home crying to my parents,” Varga said.

Varga remembers the deep sorrow felt in her neighborhood in the days after the assassination. “Being in Massachusetts, everyone in my neighborhood adored Kennedy. We were all just in a state of shock and hysteria because it felt like we had lost one of our own,” she said.

English teacher Terry Caldwell was a seventh grader in Long Beach in 1963. He remembers hearing the news of the assassination from his teacher in English class. “He broke down and cried in the middle of class, so we knew it was something really serious,” Caldwell said. “When I got home, my mom and dad were crying.”

Caldwell said that he could not fully understand the weight of the situation at the time. “From a twelve year old’s mind, we didn’t understand it. All we knew is that the president was shot by some bad guy, and then the bad guy got shot,” he said.

Caldwell said that the Kennedy family was revered in American politics. He said, “There was nothing but confidence and getting behind our leader and supporting whatever he did, even though it was a scary time. Most people had nothing but respect for President Kennedy at that time. That’s why when he was shot, people were devastated.”

Theology Teacher Thomas Cendejas also remembers the Kennedy assassination. “I was five years old and had just walked in the door from kindergarten. My mother was on the phone and I turned on the TV to watch my favorite cartoon show, Sheriff John. I was disappointed to see that it wasn’t on because the news was on instead,” Cendejas said.

endejas remembers vividly the reaction his mother, who had worked to elect President Kennedy in 1960, had when she heard the news of his assassination. “I remember that she screamed and started crying immediately. The sound of her scream is unforgettable; it causes a pit in my stomach to remember it,” he said.  

Cendejas also remembers the aftermath of the assassination. He said, “We prayed a novena of rosaries for him over the next nine days.  I remember some people wore black armbands to show their grief. When John-John [John F. Kennedy Jr.] saluted the casket, I saluted towards the TV screen, which moved my parents very much.”

Principal Frank Kozakowski remembers being in grade school when the assassination of John F. Kennedy occurred. “The Kennedy assassination was a key event in my life,” Kozakowski said. “Everything was kind of in a daze. I remember a lot of people crying, parents picking kids up and parents crying.”

Kozakowski said that Kennedy was the first president he can remember. “Kennedy was the first political leader I associated with,” he said. “I think of the peace corps and the space race. He brought a life to us that was inspiring to me.”

Kozakowski said that he kept a large amount of memorabilia surrounding the event and that the event marked an incredibly significant point in U.S. history. “We were feeling very comfortable with our lives and with the United States,” Kozakowski said. “To have [John and Robert Kennedy] get gunned down was very troubling.”


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