Editor’s note: As the 50th anniversary of the visit to Tacoma of President John F. Kennedy approached, The News Tribune asked those who attended to tell their stories of that day. The account below came from that request.
I grew up in a family of storytellers. At every family gathering of any size, we would regale each other with anecdotes and tales, each one reminding us of another.
One of the stories we all grew up hearing was of the day Grandpa came home and said to my mother and her siblings, “Would you like to shake the hand that shook the president’s hand?”
My grandfather, Robert Olsen, was a chemistry professor at Pacific Lutheran University. On that day in September 1963, he had attended a joint commencement of PLU and the University of Puget Sound, at which President John Kennedy was the esteemed keynote speaker.
I had seen photos around Tacoma of that day and always stopped to search the sea of faces to see if I could identify that sweet, familiar face I knew had been present. I never found the face I was looking for until I came across it in a most unexpected way.
In 2000, I was 25 and had moved into a loft space that had 18-foot-tall white walls. I took a visiting friend out to Antique Row to show her my wonderful city and perhaps find something to fill up some of that massive wall space.
The old Rampart was a crazy space with two floors crammed full of antiques and kitschy finds. The bottom floor had items from floor to ceiling with small paths through it.
I was negotiating one of these paths when I literally tripped on a large framed object. I picked up the picture. It was large enough that it wouldn’t disappear on a huge wall.
I was looking at a crowd shot – men in mortar boards and women in hats targeted around a face, JFK. As always, I eagerly looked at the surrounding faces, and, to my surprise and satisfaction, just a few faces away, there he was – Grandpa.
I haggled the price, insisting the face in the crowd was related to mine, finally convincing the owner he could see the family resemblance. I took my new treasure and showed it to friends and family, telling the story to all of them, and then proudly hung it on my empty wall.
I still search the faces in the crowd whenever I see a photo from that day, but when I get home, his is always there, and when family and friends get together, we have one more story to tell. Rose Peterson, Tacoma