That awful day in Dallas
MARQUETTE – It is an instant in time half a century ago none of them will ever forget: The moment they heard President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
On Nov. 22, 1963, they were a high school student, a high school teacher, an insurance agent and a college student, but each vividly remembers where they were and what they were doing when the news from Dallas broke.
Four Superiorland residents look back at a day in history they’ll never forget:
A knock on the door changed Maxine Honkala’s world.
“I was at Negaunee High School in the 10th grade. I was in Mr. Illnicky’s world history class when someone knocked on the door,” Honkala said. “(Illnicky) walked over to answer the door and a kid who had been sent from the principal’s office brought a note. The note said the president had been shot in Dallas.”
Shortly thereafter, the students, already in distress, were told President John F. Kennedy had died.
“Everyone was just stunned. It was a horrible day, very traumatic,” Honkala said. “The whole world had changed. President Kennedy was young and full of vitality. He had a beautiful family with young children. Historians refer to it as Camelot and people really were idealistic.
“Then he was gone in an instant.”
Heading home that Friday afternoon, Honkala, now 65, found her family to be in as much distress as she. And that continued through a weekend of media coverage, then a National Day of Mourning on Monday, Nov. 25, 1963, when students did not go to school, but instead stayed home to view the funeral on television.
“It was like 9/11. Everybody’s reaction was the same,” she said. “His assassination wasn’t about Democrats or Republicans. Everyone was an American and he was our president.”
Honkala went on to teach in the NICE Community School District, later serving as principal before retiring in 2003.
Trenary native Arnold Aho – who went on to teach economics at Northern Michigan University for more than 30 years – was in a different classroom on Nov. 22, 1963.
“When Kennedy was killed, I was teaching history and sociology at Escanaba High School,” Aho said. “It was a devastating day. Mrs. Rader, whose classroom was next to mine, informed me. I was stunned. We opened the doors between our two classrooms and sat there listening to the radio.
“The kids, like their teachers, were stunned,” he said. “We were all trying to sort things out. We were afraid that (the assassination) was part of something bigger, maybe something international. It was a hard day.
“I watched TV once I got home,” he said. “I was still concerned about how major this was.”
Now 80, Aho was 30 at the time of JFK’s death.
“Except for that, 1963 was a good year for me,” he said. He taught at Escanaba High through the end of that school year, then went to NMU in the fall of 1964, retiring in 1996.
Lifelong Ishpeming resident Bob Marietti most likely would have remembered Nov. 22, 1963 anyway. After all, it was his 30th birthday.
Later in life, Marietti was one of the directors for Ishpeming-Negaunee-NICE Community Schools, but in 1963, he had a different job.
“I was a special agent for John Hancock Life Insurance,” he said. “I was at home that day and I saw the news on TV right away. It was a sad, sad day.”
Marietti admired JFK.
“I thought he was very good. I thought he had a great mind as far as dissecting problems went,” he said. “He would listen to everybody, then make up his own mind. He was generally right.”
The bulletins about Kennedy’s killing hit Marietti hard.
“It was unbelievable,” Marietti said. “I had never heard of an assassination in my lifetime. It was all so sudden. The TV coverage took up most of the next few days. It took a long time to sink in, really, even though I was watching it on TV.”
To this day, Marla Buckmaster doesn’t remember why she had to drive to East Lansing to take a makeup exam on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963.
“I was in my car driving from East Lansing home to Kalamazoo when the news came on the car radio,’ Buckmaster said. “I drove down that interstate with tears falling down my cheeks. I just kept thinking ‘this cannot be true.'”
At the time, she was a 20-year-old student at Western Michigan University and to this day, she doesn’t recall the reason she was sent to East Lansing for a test.
The memory of the assassination is all that has stayed with her these 50 years since.
“When I was 20, I didn’t have much interest in politics,” Buckmaster said. “But we were talking about the president of the United States. It was upsetting that someone would, that someone could, kill the president. I remember being upset by the fact somebody would even think of killing the president.”
Through her tears, Buckmaster safely navigated home.
“I watched the TV coverage, but could only take so much,” she said. “It is like now with the (storm damage) in the Philippines. I can’t keep watching.”
Buckmaster, who moved to Marquette in 1971, was a professor at NMU for 37 years, retiring in 2008.
“When I remember President Kennedy, I think of him in his rocking chair. He had a bad back, so he sat in that rocker,” she said. “But I also think of the image of his car on that street in Dallas that day. That’s the image I think of when I think of his assassination.”
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.