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Kentuckians remember JFK

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - When he visited Lexington, a month before the presidential election on October 8, 1960, he was Senator John Kennedy.

He spent the previous night at the old Phoenix Hotel on Main Street, and then on Saturday morning rode in an open convertible car to the U-K campus.

Ron Lawson was 14-years old at the time. He remembers going to campus, and seeing a big crowd, two or three people thick along the drive heading up towards the administration building.

Lawson says he decided to climb a tree to get a better view of the president. "Lexington was just a sleepy little town in 1960, and this was a big deal."

Former WKYT News Director Ken Kurtz was a reporter in West Virginia, and followed Senator Kennedy on the campaign trail. He says the speech Kennedy delivered in Lexington had plenty of references to Kentucky issues.

"When he came into Lexington, he was ready to talk about tobacco, he was ready to talk about the Eastern Ky. situation, he knew this was the home of Henry Clay."

On the speaker's platform with Kennedy were Governor Bert Combs, former Governor Happy Chandler, and the Mayor of Lexington.

Sitting behind Kennedy was a man he met decades before during World War II. Foster Ockerman, Senior of Lexington was 21 when he first met Kennedy.

Ockerman was in naval training as a PT Boat commander, and his instructor was John Kennedy.

"He was very easy to know, he was congenial, he knew all about small boats, he could show you how to handle small boats." Both served in the South Pacific, and Ockerman later worked for the Democratic Party in Kentucky.

Fifty-years later he still has letters from Kennedy asking for his support in the run for president.

Despite Kennedy's campaign visit to Lexington, Bowling Green, and Louisville he did not carry the state, but he did defeat Richard Nixon in a tight vote.

As our 35th President John Kennedy came to Louisville in 1962, and among those listening to his speech was Sarah Combs. She was 14, and had pleaded with her father to let her hear the president speak.

"It was for me, what Elvis and the Beatles were for other kids my age. That was the level of intensity, electricity, the charisma that just charged the atmosphere completely."

Combs, like many Americans, was devastated by the President's death on November 22, 1963. But his words had inspired her like much of America.

Combs went on to become the first woman to serve on the Kentucky Supreme Court. She says JFK's legacy lives on.

"That just because politics may seem pretty crummy today, it hasn't always been that way, and may not be in the future. And only they can change it."

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