Beaverton residents reflect on the Kennedy assassination

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Memorabilia documenting President John F. Kennedy's assassination 50 years ago occupies the window display at the Beaverton History Center on Southwest Broadway Street.It was just after lunchtime on Nov. 22, 1963, when 16-year-old Bill Rice heard over a radio that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

As the sophomore at Atascadero High School in Central California quickly learned, not everybody had heard the shocking news.

“After I left where I’d been eating, I noticed the (school) flag had not been brought down,” he said. “So I went out to the flagpole and brought it to half mast.”

The noble act was nearly lost on his vice principal, who apparently hadn’t tuned into Walter Cronkite that morning.

“The vice principal asked what I was doing, and I told him,” Rice recalled. “He hadn’t heard.”by: TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTINA LENT - Beaverton resident Bill Rice was 16 years old when he learned President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. The then high school sophomore immediately lowered the American flag at his school.

With the tragic report deflating his authoritarian air, the vice principal reversed course, expressing appreciation to Rice for his simple act of patriotism.

“You have to realize, this was back when patriotism was a big thing, especially in a small town,” said Rice, a U.S. Navy veteran who lives in Beaverton with his wife, Jeri. “It was a shock to the country.”

Rice was among many Beaverton-area residents remembering that fateful day in American history 50 years ago on Friday. As national television and radio broadcasts marked the anniversary with in-depth analyses of Kennedy and the still-thriving controversies about who or what entities ultimately claimed the 35th president’s life, local residents calmly reflected on the popular leader and the day that changed the course of history.

Window of history

Judy Donovan, vice president of the Beaverton Historical Society, pulled together an assemblage of Kennedy-related memorabilia — including a commemorative plate, various newspapers, a Life magazine and a book documenting the assassination and its subsequent investigation — for this month’s window display at the Beaverton History Center, 12412 S.W. Broadway St.

Many of the items came from her mother, Alice Denney Spriggel, who had the foresight to think of their meaning to future generations.

“She was adamant we keep those things because they might be valuable to someone who didn’t know about it,” Donovan said.

She remembers being in class at Vose Elementary School when her teacher — after news came down that the president was shot — wheeled a small TV in the classroom.

“The flag was at half mast,” she said. “We put our heads down on our desks — and I remember the teacher praying. From there we were sent home. School was done.

“Even when we went back to school, it was pretty solemn,” she added. “It was just a terrible time in history.”

Fresh out of military service, Raleigh Hills resident Chris Kriesien was starting college at Portland State University when the 21-year-old heard Kennedy had been shot during a parade in TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Chris Kriesien of Raleigh Hills recalls his feelings on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

“It was an important time of my life,” he said on Friday while having lunch at the Beaverton Substation on Broadway Street. “(Kennedy) brought new energy to the country. I was a fan of his. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Kriesien believes the president and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy represented a peak in post-World War II idealism that his killing — along with subsequent assassinations of his brother Robert, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and the escalation of the Vietnam War — began to erode.

“I certainly think people were more hopeful and believed in government,” he said. “I don’t think the country is quite as united as it was then.”

What might have been

John Hittner, owner of the Studio Barber Shop at 12472 S.W. Broadway St., was in a hotel in Salem when the then-20-year-old overheard people talking about the president being shot.

“It was a sad day,” he TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - John Hittner, owner of Studio Barber Shop in downtown Beaverton, recalls where he was on Nov. 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated.

Kennedy’s youthful vitality, commitment to civil rights reform and speeches highlighting the value of self-reliance provided inspiration for young folks like himself at the time.

“Idealism is the perfect word for it,” Hittner said. “A lot of what he (accomplished) was idealistic, and a lot of what he said came to pass.”

Leaving open the possibility that John Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone the day he shot Kennedy, Hittner also sees how a troubled young man with ties to communist Russia could be capable of carrying out such a history-altering act.

“He was ticked off with the government,” Hittner said. “He’d spent time in Russia and came back to take (his frustrations) out on the president.”

Hittner can’t help but ponder what more the public would know about the assassination by now if Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby hadn’t fatally shot Oswald two days after the president was killed.

“I wonder if Ruby hadn’t shot him what we would have gleaned,” he said, noting while he didn’t condone Ruby’s deed, it crystallized the visceral emotions many Americans felt that day. “Ruby was the manifestation of all of us.”

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