Remembering President JFK's visit to the Northland

By KBJR News 1

September 23, 2013 Updated Sep 23, 2013 at 10:54 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- The legend of President John F. Kennedy has grown so large over the years many people often forget his victory over Richard Nixon in 1960 was razor thin.

The Northland helped put him over the top, though, and 50 years ago, this week, Kennedy came to our area to say thanks and to spread an environmental message.

In the early 1960s John F. Kennedy made two stops in the northland.

His first visit came in 1960 while running against Richard Nixon for the presidency.

While on the campaign trail, Kennedy was interviewed by Glenn Maxham, then the KBJR news director.

"It was kind of a phenomena to be even speaking to this man and at that time he hadn't even attained the presidency," Maxham said.

After winning the election, President Kennedy made a return trip to the Northland in September 1963 to give a speech about nature conservation at UMD.

Steve Lasky of Duluth was eight at the time and stood in front of his father's Dairy Queen restaurant on Central Entrance to see the motorcade pass by.

"When he went by, I was holding a sign that said "welcome President Kennedy" and I don't remember but my mother told me that President Kennedy looked right at us and waved," Lasky said.

Lasky's five-year-old sister was there as well.

"I think I might have been too little to understand the greatness of him coming to Duluth," Joddy Polzin.

Former KBJR anchorman Lew Martin remembers that First Lady Jackie Kennedy also attracted a great deal of attention during the trip as well.

"I had a chance to talk to Jackie, and you couldn't take a bad picture of her," Martin said.

Kennedy's tour also included stops in Ashland and the Apostle Islands.

It was only few weeks after that visit, on November 22nd 1963 that John F. Kennedy, the nation's thirty-fifth President was killed in Dallas.

It was Martin who had to deliver the tragic news about the President's death and cancel that year's Christmas City of the North Parade in Duluth.

"We just had to tell them the president was killed today, and certainly we couldn't have a parade,” Martin said. Some couldn't believe it, some cried."

The cancellation of the parade was a sign of respect and mourning for our nation's fallen leader.

President Kennedy's September, 1963 environmental conservation trip lasted four days and took him from Pennsylvania to Minnesota and Wisconsin and then ended in Nevada.

The president visited 11 states during the trip.