McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

November 24, 2013

McAlester looks back on the unforgettable day of a president's assassination

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — Fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy died following his assassination in Dallas, Texas.

For many of those who were old enough to remember at the time, the day when they first heard the news of the assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, is marked in their memory.

While the nation has been looking back on the events of a half-decade ago, here are the thoughts and recollections of some local and area residents who recall that day.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Steven Taylor

“I was in the eighth grade at McAlester Junior High School. It was between classes and I was walking down the hall to my next class. Ireta Roth (a classmate) came up to me and said President Kennedy has been shot. I got to my classroom. Mr. Stockton was my teacher. He was a retired Navy officer and we spent the rest of the afternoon talking.

“I went home. My parents were greatly moved by this. It may have been the first time there was 24 hours of TV.”

Justice Taylor also has a vivid memory of the events of two days later when Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of shooting the president, was himself shot.

“I recall precisely it was on a Sunday. My dad and I were watching TV. We see it live on TV as Jack Ruby shoots Oswald. I was sitting on the couch with my dad. It’s chiseled in my memory.

“I already had an intense interest in history and politics.

“I’m sitting here and it’s like it happened yesterday. It just moved the whole country. It moved me.”

Bob Sullivan, retired recording engineer

“I was living in Fort Worth. I was on the way from the house to do a session at Sumet studios in Dallas. I didn’t listen to the radio because of the traffic.

“At the studio, the musicians were tuning up. A secretary came down the hall and said the president had been shot. Everybody gasped. Then, Cronkite came on the TV and said the president was dead. That ended the session.”

Two days later, Sullivan watched on television as Oswald himself was shot and killed. When he learned who had shot Oswald, Sullivan felt a shot of recognition when he saw Jack Ruby on the TV screen.

“His real name was Jack Rubenstein. He had come by the studio one day with a guy making a record. He was a short little guy. He came in and sat in the control room. He just sat there and asked why it took so long to cut one song. He was beside himself because it took from two-and-half to three hours to record two songs.”

McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak

“I was in Casper, Wyoming, in the fifth grade at St. Anthony’s Catholic School. I explicitly remember the nuns coming into our classroom and explaining that the president had been assassinated.

“It was very quiet. A lot of people were crying. About 30 minutes after it occurred, they took us to the gymnasium where we all tried to watch a little black and white TV.”

Stasiak said he still remembers that day, down to details of the chalk board and the windows in his classroom.

“I never thought anything would impact me so much.”

District 17  state Rep. Dr. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester

“I was standing along  Highway 82 in Cookson, Oklahoma. I was in the seventh grade and I was standing on the highway waiting for the OSU Extension Agent to pick me up to go see my pine tree project.

“My stepfather, Jack Payne, drove up to tell the president had been killed. Then, the OSU agent called and said he wasn’t going to be able to make it.

“I was numb. I didn’t think something like that could happen in the United States. We had Secret Service men and guys who rode on the car.”

Renegar added that his mother and step-father had been married for a relatively brief period of time.

“It was the first time I had ever seen my step-father cry, when he told me our president had been killed,” Renegar said.

That changed his attitude toward his stepfather, he said.

Retired banker, Liz Berry-Shaw

“I was attending OSU at the time. I had heard there was some shooting in Dallas. It didn’t enter your mind it could happen.

“Then, over the radio, here it came. Everybody at the campus stopped and got out of their cars. I remember looking across the campus. Everybody was sitting on the grass, staring.

“I remember how sad it was. It was devastating.

“He was the epitome of what we felt our president should be.”

Like many others, she’s amazed that something that happened five decades ago can be recalled so vividly today.

“That’s the part I can’t get. The 50 years have just flown.”

Primus Moore, retired educator

“I was at L’Ouverture in a typing class. I was a sophomore. There was an announcement the president had been shot.

“We were all in shock it had happened. We thought it was unbelievable, with what he was trying to do to end segregation and all that stuff. We couldn’t believe it would happen.”

Pittsburg County Election Board Secretary Cathy Zukosky

“I was in grade school at Hartshorne. I knew something had happened.

“It scared me. I thought maybe something had happened to my mom or dad. It was still frightening when I figured out that the president of the United States had been shot.

McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison

“I was in the seventh grade at Monroe Junior High School in Tulsa. I remember watching the whole thing on TV for several days. We didn’t think something like that could happen.

“I remember having a big color picture of the president in my room.”

Miller Newman, president of the Pittsburg County Branch of the NAACP

“I was working for Hunt’s Department Store. I was in the stockroom, getting a shipment ready. Art Quadracci, who had the sporting goods department, came up an told me ‘The president has been shot.’ I stayed and watched TV most of the afternoon. Everybody was about in tears; many were.”

District 1 Pittsburg County Commissioner Gene Rogers

“I’d been working in Arkansas. I was driving home and pulling into my dad’s driveway. I remember it very well.

“It flabbergasted me. I couldn’t believe something like that would happen. I think he was a good guy. I think he was the best president in my lifetime. I think people like him and President Clinton cared about poor people.”

Like many others, Rogers says he will never forget the day he heard that President Kennedy had been shot and killed.

“It will always be in my mind.”

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.