When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated a half century ago today, “It was a moment I’ll never forget,” reports Lil Kennel.
The St. Louis School second-grade teacher was in her classroom at about 2 p.m. when the principal, Sister Theresa Ann, came on the public address system, which seldom occurred. “She said, ‘I need everyone’s undivided attention immediately.’ Then she gave the announcement, ‘Our president has been shot in Dallas.’ The teachers came out of their rooms. We had to kind of keep a low profile because of the children.”
Ten minutes later, the principal said a prayer over the system, then students and teachers (four laypersons and the rest nuns) recited three prayers, “Our Father,” “Hail Mary” and “Glory Be” in unison. After the children were dismissed for the day, “we went down to her office and she had the radio on and that’s when we heard he had died.”
Four years earlier, the nuns had stayed up all night watching election returns to see if a Catholic could be elected president and cheered when it happened. Now they were all in tears in the teachers’ lounge, Kennel recalled.
She still lived at home in Brookville with her parents. The killing “had a great impact on our family,” which had just lost her 15-year-old brother to cancer.
Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, was about the same age as Kennel’s students. “My class wrote to her (on a sympathy card) and received a nice letter back from the family.”
It was a sad time in Batesville, according to the retiree. Six days after JFK was shot, Clara Hillenbrand, 81, the widow of John A. Hillenbrand, an early Hillenbrand Industries leader, died.
Andy Irrgang, a former Batesville City Council member, was traveling for his insurance company job on that day 50 years ago. He heard the news “on television later that evening because I had been in Evansville all day.