Ashland remembers a visit from President Kennedy 50 years agoAbout 200 people turned out to celebrate last month, fewer than the roughly 12,000 people who crowded into the city airport to catch a glimpse of Kennedy in 1963.
By: Danielle Kaeding, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
President John F. Kennedy was known for his international policies in Berlin and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but just two months before his assassination, he made an 11-state conservation tour. This is part one of WPR’s series on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s trip that included a stop in northern Wisconsin.
The Ashland High School band played – just as it did a half century before – on September 24. About 200 people turned out to celebrate last month, fewer than the roughly 12,000 people who crowded into the city airport to catch a glimpse of Kennedy in 1963.
Perhaps no one was as close as five-year-old Diane Tetzner of Washburn.
“President Kennedy kissed me on the forehead,” she says. “I remember on the ride home with my mom and my grandma, telling them that President Kennedy kissed my forehead and I was never ever going to wash my forehead again.”
Her husband Greg didn’t have it so easy. “I remember that we came to this farm right here because there was so much traffic on the road and my family walked through the field to see the doings over there.”
Stan BeBeau recalls lots of smiles and excitement. Then a young Ashland police officer, he remembers the crowd crushing against a snow fence, steel posts bending forward as they strained to see Kennedy. “When he got off the helicopter and walked up to the podium the crowd just roared.”
Kennedy spoke for just eight minutes after flying over Lake Superior.
“Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands, the Bad River area are all unique,” said Kennedy. “They are worth improving for the benefit of sportsmen and tourists. In an era of congestion and pollution, manmade noise and dirt, Lake Superior has a beauty that millions can enjoy.”
Fifty years later, former U.S. Representative Dave Obey told the crowd at what is now JFK Airport that the president’s visit brought national attention to the crown jewel of Lake Superior.
“I’m convinced that until Kennedy’s visit, that there was little awareness in this area of the drive to set aside those islands in perpetuity for future generations.”
In 1963, the Apostle Islands were still seven years from being preserved as a National Lakeshore. Obey says that wouldn’t have happened if not for Kennedy and the persistence of Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson. His daughter Tia Nelson agrees.
“That was a long difficult journey, day in and day out, month in and month out for seven years,” she says. “They simply kept at it with a conviction that if they did so they would prevail because it was a good and right idea.”
So began the idea that conservation and economic growth can go hand in hand, says Bob Krumenaker, the superintendent of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
“Fifty years from now, who knows what it’s going to be like,” he says. “But I think, we, the Park Service, will still be here. I think we will still have the opportunity to be stewards for this very cool place, improving the economy in northern Wisconsin and doing something that’s really important for the American people.”