WESTERLY — That day in Dallas 50 years ago is so imprinted in the minds of most Americans who came of age in the middle of the last century, that if you ask most people born in the 1950s what they were doing and where they were on the day President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot, they can describe those events with surprising detail.
The Rev. Kenneth J. Suibielski, the pastor of Misquamicut’s St. Clare Church, was an eighth grader at St. Adalbert’s School in Providence in 1963. He remembers that his class had the only television in the school, so the entire student body filed into his classroom to watch the news unfold.
“We all became glued to the TV,” he said. “And we heard Walter Cronkite tell us ‘The President is dead.’ It was the first time — as a group of children — that we heard death talked about publicly.”
“Our country lost its innocence that day,” Suibielski said. “President Kennedy was such a vigorous young man, such a youthful president... he exuded such an energy that people wanted to hook their wagon to his star. He was a leader and we were all just beginning to understand what leadership was all about.”
Pine Point School teacher Judy Florio Toscano of Westerly was in the sixth grade in Manhasset on Long Island.
“I did not go home for lunch, but other classmates did and when they returned they reported that President Kennedy had been shot, and our teacher confirmed it with a gasp and a hand to her chest,” she remembered. “When I went home that day the TV was on, and it stayed on continuously for the next couple days as my family watched the coverage together. I was obsessed with every picture and article that appeared in magazines, and kept many of them for years. The following February during my school vacation we took the train in a snowstorm to D.C. so that I could visit the White House. Between the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination, it was a pretty scary time for an 11-year-old.”
Westerly native Joe Iacoi remembers that he was in seventh grade English class at Babcock Junior High School when his teacher, Miss Bogle, went to the door of the Room 6 classroom on the first floor to see who was knocking and why.
She read a note that was handed to her, a notice containing the “shocking news that our president had been assassinated at 1:30 p.m. in Dallas, Texas,” recalled Iacoi. “Our entire class was in shock and she started to cry.”
“We then had a moment of silence and prayer for our president,” said Iacoi, who also remembers spending the weekend watching TV with his parents and brothers and the difficult time Cronkite had reporting the news.
Iacoi’s wife, Angie, was a sixth grader at the Immaculate Conception School on that Friday afternoon in November. She remembers the school principal coming into the classroom and informing the students that the president had been assassinated.
“We were all shocked and sad,” she said. “I recall spending the entire weekend watching TV and the entire funeral and procession of our President JFK.”