UW-Stout News Story

Kennedy assassination brought campus to a halt in 1963

November 21, 2013

Fifty years ago activity at University of Wisconsin-Stout came to a virtual standstill, as it did across the nation, with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Students watch TV coverage of the assassination in 1963.The news hit especially hard on campus and in Menomonie. Many students, faculty, staff and local residents remembered meeting and hearing the energetic young presidential candidate just three years earlier when, accompanied by his wife, Jacqueline, he spoke at what then was Stout State College.

Suddenly, the nation's 35th president was gone.

Robert Dealey, then a student, recalls being in a history class Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, when he heard the news. Someone banged on the classroom door. Professor Bob Melrose, wondering why someone was interrupting class, opened it and everyone heard that Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

President Micheels speaks Nov. 24, 1963, at Harvey Hall Theatre."Dr. Melrose melted into his chair and, while too shocked to speak, motioned dismissal to the class. We adjourned to the student union and watched the news unfold," Dealey said.

"No one really fully comprehended what just happened. We just sat there in shock, and then our classmates disbursed one by one, most without saying a word," said Dealey, who lives in Williams Bay in southeastern Wisconsin and owns a plastics consulting company.

All campus activities were called off, including a dance scheduled that night at a north campus residence hall. The next day college President William "Bud" Micheels announced that there would be a campus assembly on Sunday.

Micheels canceled classes Monday, Nov. 25, a national day of mourning, and Tuesday, Nov. 26, the day before the scheduled campus Thanksgiving break.

John and Jacqueline on campus in 1960.At the convocation Sunday, Nov. 24, Micheels addressed students in Harvey Hall Theatre. He was virtually on the same spot where Kennedy, with Jacqueline sitting nearby, had spoken Feb. 26, 1960.

"These are tragic and solemn days," Micheels began. "In this time of national crisis, it is fitting that we should meet together as an educational family and in a manner which will serve as a collective tribute to our departed leader."

Individually, this is a time for introspection, for reassessment and for rededication," he told students, adding that he hoped they would use the days off to contemplate what had happened. "You here at Stout and students in every college and university should remind yourselves that you are here preparing to become the leaders of the future."

John and Jacqueline on stage in 1960.In 1960, during his visit to Stout State College, Kennedy spoke for 20 minutes and answered questions. Among the issues he raised were the importance of citizens getting involved, saying, "We cannot wash our hands of the political process," and there's a need for "greater leadership than ever before because economic policies we face today dwarf all previous problems."

Kennedy was on a campaign visit to Wisconsin prior to the April Wisconsin primary. An estimated 1,000 people crammed into the 750-seat Harvey Hall auditorium. Kennedy also attended a luncheon for about 200 people near campus at the Marion Hotel and stopped at the Dunn County News office.

The current leader of UW-Stout, Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen, was still in college and student-teaching a high school history class in Moline, Ill., when he heard the news Nov. 22, 1963.

JFK greets well-wishers in 1960 on campus.He said the assassination was tragic because Kennedy was emerging as a great leader.

"It ended a potentially great presidency," Sorensen said. "He had changed his mind about civil rights. He handled Russia well. Cuba tested his mettle as a strong, cautious leader. He had changed his mind about Vietnam. He was on the cusp of a lot of attitudinal change and was cut short."

Sorensen, who earned his doctorate in history, saw Kennedy as a galvanizing leader. "He was articulate, young, handsome. He gave Americans optimism and hope, that we had a future together, things we hadn't had in a long time," Sorensen said.

The assassination anniversary brings back a personal memory for Doug Kennedy, no relation to JFK, an associate professor in hospitality and tourism at UW-Stout. In 1963, he was in seventh grade when he heard people repeating that "Kennedy was shot."

"I was confused and thought they were referring to my dad," he said.

"Our basketball team had a game that night, and our coach didn't cancel it. When I eventually got home, my mother was crying. When my dad heard that our game wasn't canceled he had some choice words to say about our coach. Those are things one does not forget," Kennedy said.

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