By Mark E. Vogler
---- — HAVERHILL — Richard Padova was too young to experience the pain and sorrow that millions of Americans felt 50 years ago tomorrow — the day an assassin’s bullets claimed the life of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.
“I was only 3 when he was shot — just too young to have much recognition,” Padova, 53, part of the Global Studies Department at Northern Essex Community College.
But the Andover resident has made it a personal and professional responsibility to rekindle memories of that fateful day as well as the legacy of JFK. He’s the driving force behind “A Weekend of Remembrance: The Story of JFK,” a three-day program that begins tomorrow at the college’s Haverhill campus. The program is free and open to the public. All events will be held in the Hartleb Technology Center, 100 Elliott St.
“I’ve always had a deep interest in President Kennedy because I was born in September of 1960 — when the presidential campaign was really getting underway and he’s the president who was inaugurated soon after my birth,” Padova said.
It was about a year ago, while reflecting on the 49th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, that Padova thought it would be good for the college to mark the milestone anniversary.
“Since I teach history and I have a collection of Kennedy items in my possession, I became the self-appointed organizer,” Padova said.
“Right from the beginning, I said I don’t want it to be all about the assassination. While it will be part of the program, I wanted to focus on the life and the legacy of John F. Kennedy,” he said.
“My goal is to educate people, to mark the occasions of the assassination and to look at Kennedy’s life at the same time,” Padova said. “To remember Kennedy and how he inspired all of us to a higher calling and inspired us to always think of tomorrow and to ways that we can make society better.”
As part of the program, Padova will be seeking personal observations from the public about JFK to be written in a memory book that will be kept in the college’s archives. Visitors who attend the program will be invited to write down their remembrances in the book, something they recall about JFK or where they were on the day he was shot.
To promote the weekend event, faculty and staff are already sharing their recollections on the college’s website. They will also be entered in the memory book that Padova is assembling.
John Donofrio, a part-time math professor, shared from his personal journal about the historic event.
“I was in my barracks room when (the assassination) was announced over the PA system. America was now in a deep, collective mourning. JFK died on a Friday and by Sunday morning my entire company was marching in his funeral procession alongside his flag-draped coffin,” Donofrio wrote.
“Of the six companies at the Coast Guard Academy, my company was the only one selected to go because we were considered the best in marching and maneuvering. One hundred of us marched in silence in front of an estimated million people who quietly lined the streets to mourn and view the formal procession. We marched from the U.S. Capitol to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, then to JFK’s final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery. Many times, all I could hear was our footsteps marching in unison. Occasionally a dirge played in the background. 250,000 people waited up to ten hours in lines that stretched 40 blocks to pay their respects at the cemetery. It was a solemn and fitting tribute.”
Padova’s personal collection of Kennedy memorabilia will be on display during the weekend. It includes an invitation packet and the admission to a dinner that was to be held in Austin on the evening of the assassination and a memento that was given to mourners at JFK’s funeral mass. There are also campaign buttons, posters literature and other keepsakes from Kennedy’s House, Senate and Presidential runs, including some unusual items.
“I have a pennant that Kennedy collectors told me is quite rare,” Padova said. “On one side is says ‘JFK’ and on the other side ‘LBJ.’ I also have some letters from when JFK was a senator in the 1950s. He wrote some letters addressed to some Italian organizations in the ‘50s in Lawrence. There’s also an inaugural invitation to the 1960 inauguration, a license plate from one of the cars that was in the inauguration parade. It says ‘JFK ‘61’ It’s probably from a vehicle that was carrying some dignitaries.”
Visitors to the JFK event will also get to view a copy of the Eagle-Tribune with a headlined story on the assassination.
The event will kick off 10 a.m. tomorrow, with a recitation of President Kennedy’s inaugural address by Jim Murphy, a theater professor at the college.
During the opening ceremony, current office-holders who represent Haverhill at the local and state level will sharing their memories and thoughts about the life and legacy of JFK. They include: Mayor James Fiorentini, State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, State Representatives Diana DiZoglio and Leonard Mirra and Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff. Kate Machet, regional field director for U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, will also participate.
At 11:30 a.m. Saturday, there will be a panel discussion on “The JFK Assassination: What Really Happened.” History professors Andrew Morse and Ligia Domenech will give their views on whether they believe there was a conspiracy. It will be moderated by Christopher Cox, a student who worked on the reelection campaign of President Obama. The discussion will be broadcast by WHAV Radio in Haverhill.
On Sunday, at 2 p.m., former Kennedy campaign volunteers Frank O’Connor of Andover and Ronald Martin of Lawrence will share their experiences from JFK’s presidential and senatorial campaigns.
Visitors who attend the weekend program can sign up for a free raffle for a basket of presidential books. If interested in reading or learning more about Kennedy, the public will be able to borrow books loaned from the library at special table that will be set up.
All events are free and open to the public and will take place in Room 103 A/B in the Tech Center building.
Program Hours: Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 12 noon to 4 p.m.
For more information, visit www.necc.mass.edu/jfk or contact Richard Padova, organizer, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-556-3297.