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When John F. Kennedy went to the Hotel Pathfinder in Fremont, NE

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    FREMONT, NE (Fremont Tribune ) — John F. Kennedy was a half hour late when he arrived at the Hotel Pathfinder in Fremont.

He spoke less than 10 minutes without notes and didn’t use a prepared text handed to reporters.

It was Oct. 5, 1959, and the Massachusetts senator hadn’t announced his candidacy for President, but many assumed he’d seek the Democratic nomination.

Kennedy shook hands with most of the 200 people attending the breakfast, which was part of a quick Nebraska tour.

Breakfast attendees couldn’t have imagined what would happen in the future — the tragic deaths of a popular president and his brother and, later, an explosion that destroyed the hotel.

More than 60 years after JFK’s visit, children of Fremonters, who attended this and other events, remember their parents’ interactions with the Kennedys and still own cherished souvenirs of an earlier era.

Nick Lamme’s father, William, was prominent in the Democratic Party, serving as state campaign chairman for U.S. Congressman Lawrence Brock. William Lamme, a Fremont attorney, also served on the advisory committee for Gov. Frank Morrison of Nebraska.

Then 17 years old, Nick Lamme doesn’t recall the quick stopover by Kennedy, who at that time was one of many visiting politicians.

“There were loads of political people who came to our house or who came to Fremont to visit my father,” Lamme said.

During his Fremont stop, Kennedy cited agriculture and fiscal policy as the two biggest issues of the 1960 election. He stressed the importance of making America strong to face the menace of Communism.

The Tribune reported that breakfast attendees found Kennedy to be personable, quiet and polished.

After Fremont, Kennedy was set to speak in Columbus at noon, Norfolk in the afternoon and Hastings that night.

Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline, was supposed to have made the trip to Fremont, but returned home suffering from a bad cold. Kennedy’s brother, Ted, had been delayed by Colorado snowstorms and was set to meet the group the next day.

Connie Foy Hankins, who lives in Peoria, Arizona, grew up in Fremont and was a little girl when Kennedy visited.

Her dad, Jerry Foy, was chairman of the Democratic Party in Dodge County for more than 16 years. Foy and Lamme were shown in a front page Tribune photograph with Kennedy.

Foy later wrote that he was so impressed during Kennedy’s visit that he filed as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1960.

Hankins said her father believed Kennedy had concern for the entire country and was compassionate.

Foy and his wife, Virginia, and daughter, Connie, went to Los Angeles, where the convention took place.

Hankins remembers attending a brunch with her mom.

But the highlight of the trip for Hankins, then 6 years old, was their visit to Disneyland.

Hankins still recalls the feelings and emotions of that era. Her home was a hub of activity.

“It was a time of high energy, excitement and involvement,” she said. “People were making calls, typing letters and going door to door, all to promote their candidate.”

Hankins said her parents and many others worked endless hours.

Like many women, Virginia Foy hosted coffees and cocktail parties and stuffed envelopes.

Hankins recalls a spirit of camaraderie and purpose.

“I thought everyone was involved in politics,” she said.

Hankins remembers her parents, who met Jack and Jackie, describing the Kennedys.

“Jackie was reserved and quiet, but Jack was very outgoing and friendly, came across as someone who listened and really cared and tried to do well by the country and the people,” Hankins said.

JFK became the nation’s 35th President.

Hankins said she believes the Kennedys brought beauty, energy and a feeling of hope to people.

It was nice to see a young family in the White House.

Kennedy served from 1961 until his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

It was a Friday.

Hankins was attending St. Patrick’s Elementary School in Fremont when students were called into the church and told that Kennedy had been shot.

They began saying the rosary, but hadn’t finished when they were told that Kennedy had died. The children finished saying the rosary, returned to their classrooms and went home.

There were very different emotions this time.

“It was like the bottom fell out,” she said. “It was just devastating and my parents were very upset. Everyone was in shock. It was like three or four days of being in shock and mourning.”

Nick Lamme was reading a magazine at his Sigma Chi fraternity’s house in Lincoln, when he heard the news on the radio.

“It was a horrible, terrible thing for the country,” he said.

Lamme remembered Nebraska was supposed to play Oklahoma in football that Saturday. There was a debate about whether to have the game or cancel it.

“They played,” he said. “They decided Kennedy would have wanted the game to be played.”

After his father died, Nick Lamme found a Christmas card that then-Senator John and Jackie Kennedy sent to his family. Red poinsettias line the front next to a black and white photo of John, Jackie and their daughter, Caroline. A son, John Jr., was born later. The Kennedys lost a son, Patrick, in infancy and a stillborn daughter.

Kennedy was 46 when he died.

“I thought he was a good president and did a lot of good things for the country. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. We stood them off and backed the Russians down,” Lamme said.

Hankins remembers Kennedy’s brother, Robert, better than the late president.

Campaigning in 1968 for president, Robert came through the area on a train making a Whistle Stop in different towns.

Hankins was a teenager at the time when Robert and his wife, Ethel, came to Fremont, via train that spring. Her parents rode the train from Schuyler to Fremont on April 27, 1968, with Foy introducing the young presidential candidate at the stops.

Jack was a little more outgoing than Robert, but the younger Kennedy was very personable as was his wife.

Hankins’ mom told how Ethel and Robert walked through the various train cars talking to people, shaking their hands and making them feel comfortable.

“They didn’t just sit in a corner and not talk to people,” Hankins said. “They socialized with everyone.”

Only a couple months later, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed on June 6, 1968. Kennedy, who was only 42 years old, had 11 children, one of whom was born after he died.

Hankins said neither Kennedy was even remotely able to finish politically what they started.

“In their minds, they had a lot more that they wanted to accomplish,” she said.

No president — or any elected official — is flawless.

“We live in a very different time and no candidate or person is ideal or perfect,” she said. “Back in the ’60s, you were presented one side of an individual. I think they did a lot for the country and they were sincere in their effort. There’s various ways that history looks upon them now and we see things more in a 360-degree view now that we were not able to see then. No one is a perfect human being or always makes the right decision.”

Hankins still has precious relics — JFK campaign buttons, a hat from the national convention, souvenir train passes from Bobby Kennedy’s tour and a flyer announcing that it was coming to Fremont.

Time passed after JFK’s presidency. Other elections occurred. The Hotel Pathfinder continued to be the site of various events until a gas explosion on Jan. 10, 1976, that killed 20 people and injured more than 40. Next year marks the 45th anniversary of the deadly blast.

But 61 years ago, the hotel was the site visited by a man who’d make history.

And some Fremonters were part of that visit.

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