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Nov 22, 2013 10:11 AM by Ryan Haarer

Tucson recalls its connection to JFK 50 years after assassination

TUCSON- Maureen Brennan St. Pierre's parents campaigned hard for President Kennedy in 1960. They were invited to the inauguration. Her Irish Catholic family was devastated when they heard the news.

"It still haunts us. Lincoln was assassinated. This is 1963. You don't expect something like that to happen," she said.

Her husband Pete stood feet away from the president multiple times while playing in the 15th Air Force band at Vandenberg Air Force Base. He heard the bad news on the flight line.

"At the time we thought, we could possibly be going to war," said Pete.

Fifty years later the couple lives just miles from the University of Arizona which has its own connection to JFK.

"Mary Jeffries Bruce was a woman who organized something called the Sunday evening forum. It grew in popularity and was eventually held here at the University of Arizona's main auditorium," said Maurita Baldock, assistant librarian and archivist at the University of Arizona Special Collections.

The forum featured the who's who of the time like then Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. Mary Jeffries Bruce kept a scrap book of the event, now housed in special collections. The town was buzzing preparing for the vibrant, up and coming politician to visit Tucson.

"They had given him a hat and according to a newspaper report, it was a go western theme," said Baldock, referring to a picture of Kennedy with a sombrero in hand.

On February 23, 1958, 2,700 people turned out to hear him speak. Upon becoming president, JFK appointed Arizona congressman and UA alum Stewart Udall as secretary of the interior. Udall and other cabinet members were on their way to Japan for an economic conference when they heard the news from Dallas in '63. The plane turned back towards Washington.

"While Udall was on the plane, obviously he was still in shock; he decided to write out his thoughts," said Baldock.

In a two-page scribble Udall at one point asked, "why does so much history end so cruelly?" Secretary Udall was sent an invitation to the funeral, and inside was a picture of the President and his wife the morning of his death.

"He [Kennedy] inspired so many people with those words. You know, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," said Maureen.

These articles can all be seen at the University of Arizona Special Collections Library.

For more information on the Special Collections visit http://speccoll.library.arizona.edu/.

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