Karen Peterson

Dale Phelps: Remember a happier Kennedy anniversary

Two months from today, the nation will observe the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

If you are of a certain age, you no doubt have a vivid memory of where you were and how you heard about that tragic event on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas. In the weeks ahead, media outlets will revisit that day and speculate in various ways about its impact.

On today’s front page, we are marking a different Kennedy anniversary, one that evokes different memories. It’s about Sept. 27, 1963, the day the president visited Tacoma. Columnist Peter Callaghan’s story paints a picture of what happened 50 years ago and offers a glimpse into the excitement felt in an era when the president wasn’t quite the daily presence in our lives that he is today.

The idea for today’s package began with a discussion among editors about what to do this November concerning the assassination. In the course of that discussion, several people remembered that Kennedy had been here just a couple of months before his death. That led us to think we ought to do a story that would describe the unique connection created that day between Kennedy and our area. From there, Callaghan and other staff members went to work.

Local news editor Randy McCarthy sought reader remembrances and received several dozen, along with photos and other memorabilia. You can read some of those recollections on pages A11, A17 and A18. One submission turned out to be worth a story in itself. It’s about a 16-year-old Tacoma boy who sent a photo from that day to the president for his autograph. We’re planning to run his story later this week.

Photo editor Joe Barrentine and page designer Scott Stoddard mined various sources to illustrate today’s package. The News Tribune photo archive yielded dozens of negatives from former staff photographer Bob Rudsit’s coverage of the event. Stoddard referred to it as finding “the treasure of the Sierra Madre.” The main photo on the front page is from the University of Washington Libraries’ Special Collections archives and is the only color photo we could find.

Barrentine arranged for Rudsit’s negatives to be turned into digital files, and five of those shots were combined by photographer Peter Haley to create the panorama of the scene at Cheney Stadium spread across pages A10 and A11. You also can read Rudsit’s memories from that day on page A18.

Also noteworthy, of course, is what Kennedy said in his speech. You can find excerpts of his remarks on page A9. Near the end, he said, “I do not think that these trips may do very much for people who come and listen to those of us who are traveling.”

It seems he wasn’t right about that. The thousands who came and listened left with memories of a special day. And that makes it a story worth retelling a half century later.

Dale Phelps: 253-597-8681



The News Tribune took second place last week in the 2013 Dolly Connelly award for excellence in environmental journalism. Photographer Dean Koepfler and reporter Rob Carson teamed up on the story: “As tides creep up, some just look away.” Graphic artist Jessica Randklev helped produce a series of maps showing which portions of the Port of Tacoma would flood if warming seas push waters higher.

The judges commented: “We hear many claims about what impact climate change will have on our water-dependent region. This series is the most comprehensive yet on a potential impact. Very impressive reporting.”

The first-place award went to The Daily News in Longview for “Mining Near Mount St. Helens.”

The award is named for longtime Northwest environmental reporter Dolly Connelly, who died in 1995. Medium- and small-sized daily newspapers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, Utah, Alberta and British Columbia are eligible to enter.

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434