Anyone who has ever had the chance to see a U.S. president whether during a time he was in office or not will tell you it is a moment they will never forget.
This was certainly the case for those who had the chance to witness Sen. John F. Kennedy’s visit to Elgin and the Fox Valley during the close of the 1960 presidential campaign.
Newspapers report that the 1960 presidential race between Republican candidate Richard Nixon and Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy became very heated in its final weeks. In a debate in early October, Kennedy accused Nixon of “using mirrors in his promise to spend more without raising taxes.” Nixon charged Kennedy with offering “retreads” of polices that failed under Truman.
Polls showed the two in an almost dead heat in Illinois a key state needed to take the election. On Oct. 20, 1960, Kennedy announced that he would visit the Elgin area.
The itinerary called for Sen. Kennedy to stop at the Meadowdale Shopping Center in Carpentersville as well as Elgin, St. Charles and Geneva. It was the first time that a presidential candidate had visited Elgin since Republican Wendell Willkie did so from the rear platform of a train in his 1940 bid to unseat Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In his speech before a crowd at the Meadowdale Shopping Center in the rapidly growing town of Carpentersville, newspapers report Kennedy talked about the need for better educational opportunities. He also noted the Soviet Union had more scientists than the United States.
The caravan then traveled to the Flexonics Corporation on Route 31 south of Big Timber Road where employees had gathered in the plant’s assembly hall, said John Diehl an industrial engineer with the firm.
“Kennedy was a big supporter of the space program which was just getting going then,” explained Diehl. “We made flexible units which could operate in high temperatures in space,” he said of the company’s work.
The entourage then made its way south on Route 31 toward Elgin. Nancy Anderson saw Kennedy as he passed the intersection of State and Kimball.
“I was carrying my infant son who was just over a month old,” Anderson said. “We were alone at the corner when he went by. ‘How’s it going?’ Kennedy asked, as he passed by. He was so handsome!”
From here it was on to Elgin’s downtown where a makeshift stage had been set up in front of the Joseph Spiess department store on South Grove Avenue at DuPage Street. Students from nearby Elgin High School who had been dismissed early to attend the event were present in the audience as well as pupils from St. Edward High School. Some sixth-grade students from Wing School located several blocks away had also walked to the downtown with their teacher.
“The area was jammed with people,” said Police Chief James Hansen. “The crowd had a difficult time staying away from Kennedy’s car as it drove down Grove Avenue. Some were pushed on top of it. I took his hand and helped him onto the stage. He was wearing a blue suit and was quite tan.”
Hansen says he remembers Kennedy speaking about U.S. prestige.
“He had Otto Kerner, candidate for governor, with him. The crowd loved Kennedy.”
The motorcade then headed south out of Elgin on St. Charles Street where Helen Childs saw Kennedy pass in front of Garfield School near May Street.
“He turned and looked right at me. I had him all to myself,” she said.
“I don’t think I voted for him in the election though,” she chuckled.
Childs wasn’t alone. Kennedy garnered just over 5,000 votes in Elgin Township, while Nixon received over three times that amount. Countywide, Kennedy tallied over 29,000 votes compared to more than 55,000 for Nixon.
While Elgin-area residents seem to have forgotten Kennedy at the ballot box, just the opposite is true when it comes to cherished memories. That cool Tuesday Oct. 25, 1960 when this charismatic candidate for president visited Elgin is a day all say they will never forget.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.