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Remembering the loss of a leader

Fifty years later, local residents reflect on the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy


by: CENTRAL OREGONIAN - JFK and his family in Hyannis Port, on August 4, 1962.

Rare is the event that stops an entire country in its tracks.

Few moments impact people so profoundly that they never forget the details that surround it, no matter how much has passed.

On Nov. 22, 1963, 50 years ago today, Americans shared the shock and the sadness of suddenly losing their leader.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was dead.

Michael Ryan, now a deputy with the Crook County Sheriff's Office, was seated in a fourth grade classroom in California that fateful day.

"All of the teachers were called out of the classroom to go to the office," he recalls. "I remember the teacher coming back into the classroom. She was crying. They told us what had happened and they told us all to go home. They shut down school for the day."

Only 10 years old, Ryan was not sure what to make of the news, but remembers he had plenty of time to think about it on the way home from school.

"It's like, 'Oh, the President's been shot,' but that's all I knew at that time."

After getting home, he found his dad, who had been doing construction work at a neighbor's house.

"Him and his work partner were watching a little TV they drug out of somewhere," he said. "I remember watching that with them. There wasn't a lot being said. They were obviously upset."

Ryan later returned home, where he found his mother in tears.

"I'll never forget that day."

Prineville resident Colleen Ferguson was a junior in Crook County High School when Kennedy was shot. She remembers sitting in band class, when someone interrupted the session to deliver the news.

"The Kennedys - that was kind of like magic in those days," she said. "They called it Camelot, but it really seemed like that when you are that young and not involved in politics. To have someone magical like that taken away, it was unbelievable."

Like Ferguson, local resident Dee Berman was attending high school in Prineville. She remembers sitting in Mr. Shroyer's biology class when news of the assassination was announced over the school intercom.

"Utter shock and instant tears," she said of her reaction. "It was awful."

In 1963, the Central Oregonian was printed once a week each Thursday. Since Kennedy was shot on a Friday, six days had passed by the time the community newspaper could chronicle the local impact.

The top of the front page displayed five photos of community members with accompanying thoughts and comments about his death.

"Like everyone else, the first feeling I had was one of disbelief," read a Bill Clements quote.

The headline read "Assassination Shocks City." A photo below, taken at St. Joseph's Catholic Church during a memorial service, included a caption stating "scenes similar to this were enacted throughout the city as residents flocked to their place of worship to take part in special memorial services."

An article reported that within minutes of the assassination, all flags in Prineville were lowered to half-staff, where they would stay until Dec. 22. The Central Oregonian phone rang off the hook that day as people repeatedly called to cancel previously-scheduled events. Many businesses closed their doors all day Monday, as did all Crook County schools.

Fifty years later, Kennedy's assassination remains one of the most poignant events in American history. For evidence of this, consider the reaction the Central Oregonian staff received as they asked community members how they felt about his death.

"Some people, men and women, could not keep the tears from their eyes. It was as if they had just received word of a death in their immediate family."



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