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J. Garland Schilcutt was relaxing in the campus trailer he called home on that March day back in 1960, when he noticed a plume of dust rising from the nearby road.
“I looked outside and saw a caravan of six or seven cars and a bus,” recalled Lakeland College’s longtime professor of business administration, who then was in just his second year of teaching at the school.
“I wasn’t that political at the time, but I made my way over to Founder’s Gym, where then-Sen. Kennedy was speaking. It was very crowded, mostly with town folk. Of course, his entourage was milling about in there.”
Schilcutt stood at the back of the room, next to a national reporter who was covering John F. Kennedy’s campaign visit to Lakeland. About eight months later, the Democrat Kennedy defeated Republican Richard Nixon for the Presidency of the United States.
Schilcutt said he doesn’t remember details of Kennedy’s speech that day, other than noting that Kennedy was a “nice-looking guy who spoke funny," referring to Kennedy's Massachusetts accent.
“I didn’t see any kind of aura about him,” Schilcutt recalled. “I have to be honest.”
But Schilcutt did vote for Kennedy, noting with a smile, “I didn’t like Nixon, and I thought Jackie (Kennedy’s wife) was prettier than Pat (Nixon’s wife). Those were the things I thought about back then.”
Almost exactly three years after his victory, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, sending shockwaves across the nation. That was a school day at Lakeland, and Schilcutt remembers it much more clearly than Kennedy’s visit.
“I was in the Muskie Inn, which back then used to be our snack bar, down in the basement of (Jubilee Hall, now William A. Krueger Hall),” Schilcutt said. “And suddenly, someone came running in yelling, ‘Did you hear? Did you hear? President Kennedy’s been shot!’
“We were all shocked, grief-stricken really. There were tears shed.”
As he sat in his office this week, talking about Kennedy’s visit and sudden death, Schilcutt was asked if it seems like 50 years have gone by.
“At first, it doesn’t really seem that long ago,” he said. “But then, when I really think about it, a lot of years have gone by. A lot of water has gone over the falls.”
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