GREENVILLE — Historian Bill White, of Dayton, Ohio, holds a great fascination for the 35th President of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK).
JFK, born May 29, 1917, was an American politician who served as the 35th President of the United States, from January 1961, until his assassination, in Dallas, Texas, Nov. 22, 1963. He was only 46 when he died, preserving his youth and leaving many with broken hearts and visions of his lost potential. To honor the president’s 100th birthday, White has exhibited items from his personal collection at Garst Museum, in Greenville, through Friday, August 25. Three cases display the items in sequential order, beginning with the Senator Kennedy’s 1957 “Profiles in Courage” a Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of short biographies. Most of the items came from White’s family and the rest he acquired.
“I would say my fascination for Kennedy is a conglomeration of my love for my hometown,” White said. “Those were wonderful memories when me and my brother were little boys (White was 9 and his brother, 10).”
It is safe to say that White’s mother Evelyn, instilled in him the greatness of the man JFK. She was the JFK for President volunteer coordinator for the Darke County Headquarters, which once stood where a vacant lot stands now, across from the Annie Oakley Statue. Evelyn’s love for JFK deeply touched White, he said.
“Mom was so into Senator Kennedy and in a difficult county,” White said. (Darke voted for Nixon as did the state). “We were fascinated by people coming in and taking campaign buttons and stickers from the fishbowls sitting around. We had never seen all of this before, and were aware enough to be sucked in. Mom would say, ‘Go over to the Hamburger Shoppe’, at the time was a very good place to eat. We would get mom and other staff some burgers.”
With great enthusiasm, emotion and knowledge, White explains each piece in the Garst exhibit, including JFK’s campaign buttons and campaign paraphernalia.
“Before 1960, a smaller variety of items were available,” he said. “There was so much money coming into this campaign, with Joe Kennedy. This was the year it really expanded, with flasher buttons and window stickers. He ended up winning without Ohio and Darke County. That election night went on and on. At the time, it was the closest election in American History.”
President and CEO of Garst Museum Dr. Clay Johnson said he accepted White’s exhibit for a couple of reasons.
“It really tied in well to our local connection with the historical society here, in Darke County; Bill’s local connection and the 100th anniversary birthday celebration of JFK’s birth,” Johnson said. “He has some unique items, the most unique being the Daily Advocate paper just after they learned that he had been shot. It is also interesting to see people come in. My generation is 9/11, as far as remembering where you were in 9/11. But when we see the older generation come in, they instantly pivot to this exhibit. When they come in here, they talk about it and share about where they were when JFK died . It still seems to be a very vivid memory.”
To encompass JFK’s life at Garst, White does have some items from JFK’s death, such as: photos of the incident; a piece of a nearby fence from the “grassy knoll”, in Dallas; and a piece of the window at the former Texas School Book Depository. But White is quick to emphasize that he wants to focus on Kennedy’s life.
“I want this to inspire people,” White said. “It didn’t end well, but it showed what the presidency could be. We hear all kinds of stories, but to see actual items is dramatic. Hopefully they will teach people, in a positive way, what a great two-and-one-half years this was. The Peace Corps that goes on today; the Cuban Missile Crisis, which I believe to be his finest hour and his alliance for progress, are all wonderful things. I probably would never have gotten into government work, had it not been for the call of the president for people to be involved. He stayed hopeful until the end. At his last moment, he was smiling and waving to people. He is frozen in time at age 46.”
For more information, visit http://www.garstmuseum.org/
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