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“Where I Was:” Alumni Remember Tragic News of JFK Assassination

Some were on campus. Some were on the job. Some were too young to know they would be a Badger someday. Ask alumni born in the first half of the 20th century where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot, and without a doubt, they’ll have a story for you.

Wendy Krause Hathaway '04
November 15, 2013

Some were on campus. Some were on the job. Some were too young to know they would be a Badger someday. Ask alumni born in the first half of the 20th century where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot, and without a doubt, they'll have a story for you.

Here, Badgers reminisce about receiving word of the tragedy in Dallas.

"What I remember most about those dark days was walking around in a daze, endlessly watching television coverage, and crying and crying. As for many in my age group, JFK was my hero — a president who represented us and our ideals. And then he was gone and so, it seemed, were our dreams for a better future. It was all so impossibly wrong and sad."

—Jude Temby '64
Mount. Horeb, WI

"I was in the main library one day in November, another M.A. student trying to finish a semester paper. I decided to go to lunch at the Union. It was quiet, even for the stacks. As I walked out, I noted the stacks were deserted, which was not too unusual for a Friday. I walked downstairs to the checkout area. There was no one there. There was no sound in a normally busy area. I went outside to the steps that faced the Wisconsin Historical Society on the other side of the fountain. There was no one in sight. Even the Union steps, always crowded with students at midday, were empty.

I crossed the patio area and a deserted Langdon Street, carefully holding back growing feelings of pending disaster. Was there a warning of an atomic attack (a possibility in those days) and I missed it? I opened the Union door. A crash of sound burst upon me. Hundreds of students and a dozen television sets were packed into that Union entrance and nearby corridors. A voice said: "We have just learned that President John F. Kennedy has died in Dallas." Walter Cronkite had just spoken the most shocking words that many of us would hear in our lifetimes. It was Friday, November 23, 1963.

I got to a Union phone. Local calls were free in those days. I called my wife at Eagle Heights. She answered. 'Have you heard?' I said. 'What?' she said. 'When are you coming home?'"

—James Scotton MA'66, PhD'71
Milwaukee, WI
(Submitted to Badger Insider Magazine)

"I remember walking up Bascom Hill and hearing that President Kennedy was killed. A horrible event I wish I could forget."

—Ruth Goodwin Ramsey '65
Morton Grove, Ill.
(Submitted to Badger Insider Magazine)

"Sitting in a classroom in Van Vleck waiting for the calculus instructor to arrive. A cold and drizzly day in Madison."

—Bill Widmann '73
Jefferson, Wis.
(From Facebook)

"I was in 8th grade English class. We heard the news over the PA system and were sent home 30 minutes later. Still one of the saddest days I can remember! It was the beginning of an entirely different country."

—Betty Eichwald
(From Facebook)

"I was approaching Bascom Hall for my last class on Friday afternoon when another student ran out the front door shouting, "The president's been shot!" Thinking he meant the president of the University (Elvehjem, if I recall), who had an office just inside that door, I dove for the bushes! I assumed there was an assassin loose inside! I hid there until finally someone explained it was Kennedy who had been shot.

Like everyone on campus that day, my life was forever changed."

—Nancy Wrigglesworth Lee '66
Boulder, Colo.
(From Facebook)

"[I was] in seventh grade in Plymouth, Wis. The kids who walked home at lunch came back and told us he'd been shot. Later there was a PA announcement about his death."

—Jean Ford '76
Indianapolis, Ind.
(From Facebook)

"I was in third grade at Franklin Elementary. Our principal came in and gave us the news (though I wasn't paying attention). Then we were praying — can you imagine that, praying in school? I had to ask the person next to me we were praying and she told me the President had been shot. It was such a dreary day already. We went home in the rain and the bus ride was very quiet. At home, as soon as my Mom walked in the door I asked her if she had heard the news, and of course she had. I never thought to turn on the TV because we just didn't do that in those days. The next three days were nothing but the news coverage and the funeral."

—Sandy Oppitz
Salt Lake City, UT
(From Facebook)

"I was in seventh grade in Sacred Heart School in Marinette, Wis. The principal knocked on the door, whispered to our teacher, and our teacher turned to us and said, "I have bad news. The president has been shot." On the way home from school, my friends and I lingered longer than usual, perhaps not wanting to go home to the reality of what had happened. A prevailing sadness seemed to hang over everything until after the New Year."

—Mary Johns '83
Marinette, Wis.
(From Facebook)

Other alumni remember a happier time — the honor of seeing Kennedy on the campaign trail when he stopped in Madison in September 1959.

John F. Kennedy campaigns in Madison. Photo Courtesy UW-Madison Archives, S08036
John F. Kennedy campaigns in Madison. Photo Courtesy UW-Madison Archives, S08036

Jack, my older roommate, was a former union president of American Motors in Kenosha, and was asked to be treasurer of the presidential primary campaign in Wisconsin for then-Sen. John F. Kennedy. Our apartment was a place where Kennedy's advance man would crash whenever he was in Madison. The mayor of Madison at the time was also a visitor, as were others involved in the campaign.

One of my biggest thrills at the time was being asked to be one of a just a handful to greet and shake hands with the senator and his wife as they got off the plane at the Madison airport in 1959.

—Richard Law '60
Hudson, WI

(Submitted to Badger Insider Magazine)

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