Residents recall JFK assassination

ESCANABA – Fifty years ago and more than a thousand miles away a shot rang out that shook the nation and ended a presidency. But for the people who lived through the assassination of John F. Kennedy the memory of that day is still very clear.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination and local residents recall how the tragic news impacted their lives that day.

“I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it, because to me that was one of the most devastating pieces of news,” said Donna Volpe, of Escanaba, setting down her fork and ignoring the slice of turkey on her plate during lunch at the Escanaba Senior Center this week.

Volpe had been working a night shift at a hospital in Milwaukee the night before Kennedy was fatally shot in his motorcade as it traveled through the Dallas, Texas, district of Dealey Plaza. She had just gone to bed when her roommate called her out of her room to hear the news.

“She said, ‘Donna come here quick.’ We never went to bed,” said Volpe.

Even though the 20-year old Volpe had another 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at St. Mary’s Hospital that evening, she didn’t sleep, and when she did go to work she remembers the mood was somber.

“You just stayed glued to the TV set because you thought, ‘He can’t be dead. He’s just got to be alive. There’s no way that someone would kill our president,'” said Volpe.

The feeling of disbelief was echoed by others who experienced the event.

“All I could do was laugh. I couldn’t believe it,” said one man, who preferred to remain anonymous, but claimed to be a freshman at Northern Michigan University when he heard Kennedy was assassinated.

“I was so un-American at that time. I mean we thought that the days of assassinating presidents were over. This might be something that would happen in a foreign country but not in the U.S.,” he added.

For Art Messier, who worked at the Red Owl in Gladstone, the day’s news came in two pieces.

“The Escanaba Daily Press had two headlines that day, because I worked in Gladstone and I saw the headlines in the paper over there. They must have pushed the first edition over there and when they heard that President Kennedy had died they changed the press,” said Messier.

Messier managed to collect four copies of both versions of the paper – one for each of his children.

“I got home to my wife and said, ‘This isn’t the headline I saw in Gladstone.’ So I called up the drug store over there and said, ‘Put four papers away for me,'” he said.

Messier wasn’t the only one who learned about the situation by going to work. Optometrist Alfred Gossan was in his Escanaba office when he learned the news, and throughout the day he heard patients grapple with the news.

“Everybody was talking about it. That was the shock of the century,” he said.

Not everyone in Escanaba who remembers that day lived in the area when it happened. For some, like Sylvia Kitchekeg, the Kennedy was family was much closer to home.

“I was living in Newport, Rhode Island, at the time … We were watching TV when it happened, and Jackie Kennedy’s family lived right close to where I lived on Ocean Drive,” said Kitchekeg, whose ex-husband used to deliver vegetables to the estate.

“The Secret Service, when anybody’d come on the estate they’d hide behind the trees to make sure, you know, everything was OK, you weren’t carrying nothing – other than what you’re supposed to,” said Kitchekeg.

While no one who lived through the assassination can say it didn’t affect them, for some there are more positive memories associated with this week in 1963.

“My daughter was born, and I was in the hospital. I’d just had a baby, and the nurses came in and said JFK had just got killed. It was on the radio or something,” said Evonne Boudreau, adding that she planned to go out to dinner this week to celebrate her daughter Pam’s 50th birthday.