Indiana County pauses to honor JFK's legacy
While they gathered in the rain on a somber day of remembrance, those at the Indiana County commissioners’ service commemorating the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination took away with them a message of hope.
The ceremony, which took place at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Indiana County Court House, brought together several dozen on a chilly and damp November day to reflect upon the unforgettable events that took place Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.
Speakers included county commissioner Chairman Rodney Ruddock; state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana; Tony Renda, president and CEO of Renda Broadcasting; and Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael Driscoll.
Commissioner Patricia Evanko read a statement prepared by the county’s Democratic chair, Jack Hanna.
Radio announcer Anthony Frazier spoke and also sang the national anthem. Near the end of the ceremony, county auditor Donna Cupp sang “God Bless America.”
Those in the crowd ranged from people who stepped out of their offices in the borough for the half-hour ceremony to young parents, like Kayla Dilts, of Indiana, who brought her young daughter, Latisha, in a covered stroller to be part of the event.
“It’s just for her,” she said. “It’s her first year for everything, so I wanted her to see what our country’s about.”
Ruddock opened the reverent service. Commissioner David Frick followed with the invocation.
“We watched what happened, but we still yearn to understand why,” Ruddock said of the events that occurred 50 years ago.
“We have gathered here to recognize the death, the loss, of a great president.”
He noted how those gathered outside were not far from where Kennedy addressed several thousand on Oct. 15, 1960, at the old county courthouse during his presidential campaign. That day, Ruddock said, Indiana was “blessed with his presence.”
Kennedy, as Ruddock and other presenters noted, is said to be the only presidential candidate to have made a campaign stop in Indiana.
“It was a great day, but today is a sad day,” Renda said, “but the day Jack Kennedy came to Indiana was a fun day.”
Renda said he related to Kennedy at that time, particularly because of the president’s youth. His smile, his self-deprecating humor and his jokes left an impression on Renda as a young man.
“He was just a great person to be around and see,” he said. “Jack was indeed unique and, if we’re lucky, one of those come by once in our lifetime.”
Reed called upon those gathered to reflect upon Kennedy as a leader with resolve to handle issues like the Cuban missile crisis, a humanitarian who led his country during the turbulent civil rights movement and a visionary who helped to make a reality of the quest to put a man on the moon.
He called for Kennedy’s life to be an inspiration.
“Today we remember him, tomorrow we live on,” Reed said.
“May he and his wife, Jackie, continue to rest in peace, and may we continue to live up to the legacy he left behind.”
Though they were young children when Kennedy died, both Driscoll and Frazier had reflections to share about the events surrounding his assassination.
A young child at the time, Driscoll recalled seeing images of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket. In the iconic photo, little John-John was only a year older than he was at the time.
“The little boy’s action seemingly signals the end of something we once had in America,” he said.
Though the death of the president represented the end of an era, because of Kennedy’s legacy Driscoll said, “as five decades have passed, it also symbolizes hope.”
Frazier initiated a moment of silence and a prayer of remembrance at 2 p.m., matching the time of Kennedy’s death in Dallas (1 p.m. CST). In remarks following, his sentiments fell in line with Driscoll’s.
He recalled being a young child and hearing his mother react to reports of the assassination. He also noted Kennedy’s efforts to work toward peace and work for civil rights, calling for those today to continue in the same vein.
“The real legacy is how he lived and what he did,” Frazier said. “We stand here now, and we are responsible for his legacy.”
PHOTO: Reflecting during a moment of silence outside the county courthouse Friday were Connie Vetter, of Indiana, left, and Becky and Marty Medvetz, of Indiana.