John F. Kennedy was quite popular in Kenosha and made appearances here twice, both times as a Democratic presidential aspirant.
Kenoshans played a major role in helping Kennedy win Wisconsin’s 1960 primary by more than 100,000 votes. In that election, Kennedy won all 36 city precincts by nearly 2-1.
Newspaper accounts verify that JFK came to Kenosha on Nov. 13, 1959, and again on Feb. 16, 1960.
He wasn’t officially on the primary ballot when he passed through on a 1959 tour, but the two-day swing through Wisconsin was decidedly political in nature.
A snowstorm cut short his stops in Eau Claire, River Falls and Marshfield on Feb. 15, and messed with his schedule the following day when he was to appear in Portage, Watertown and Kenosha before heading to the Democratic State Convention that night in Milwaukee.
He was an hour and a half late to dinner at Oage Thompson’s restaurant (now Bombay Louie’s), 2227 60th St.
Kenoshan Don Orth remembers shaking Kennedy’s hand later that night at the Union Club, 5516 10th Ave., one of Kennedy’s stops in 1959.
Orth, who was about 23 years old at the time, was a member of The Kenoshans for Kennedy Club.
“They had a meeting of the Local 72 people and Kennedy spoke there. I was there and Bob (my brother) introduced Kennedy to me. He said ‘Hello, nice to meet you. I can see the resemblance,’ he said. My brother and I looked pretty much alike.”
Don’s brother Bob Orth, along with Lennie Stankiewicz and Don Waswrick, had worked with Kennedy campaign staffer Jerry Bruno when Bruno was a forklift driver at the Kenosha American Motors plant.
Bruno served as a political advance man for both John and Robert Kennedy and later Hubert Humphrey.
Bob Orth, Stankiewicz and Waswrick worked hard on Kennedy’s campaign and later joined Bruno at Kennedy’s inaugural ball. According to Don, they may have picked up Kennedy at an airport for one of his visits here.
Don possesses a small inaugural ball medallion emblazoned with the likenesses of Kennedy and his vice president Lyndon Johnson, dated Jan. 20, 1961. It, along with a PT-109 tie tack and other memorabilia, belonged to his late brother.
During one of the two visits, Kennedy stopped at Chet’s Bar (now TGs), 4120 Seventh Ave., to shake more hands.
Kennedy’s second visit (Feb. 16, 1960) was detailed in Kenneth P. O’Donnell’s and David F. Powers’ 1970 book “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye.” O’Donnell and Powers were key organizers of Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
Kennedy’s group arrived here late in the afternoon of Feb. 16 and visited the Town ‘n’ Country Shopping Center at 4523 75th St. and the Connolly’s Jewel grocery store.
The book says it best:
“One day in Kenosha, she walked into a busy supermarket and listened to the manager announcing bargain sale items over a loudspeaker system.
“She located the microphone, gave the manager a dazzling smile and asked if she could say a few words.
“The next voice heard throughout the store was the soft tones of Jacqueline Kennedy.
“Just keep on with your shopping while I tell you about my husband, John F. Kennedy...”
The entourage then stopped at his local campaign headquarters downtown, where he was met by 75 people. He climbed on a chair there to speak to his campaigners.
Then it was off to an unscheduled appearance at the Union Club at an AFL-CIO council meeting.
Later a large and enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,200 greeted the senator at the American Legion Hall downtown, while another 200 stood outside in the cold trying to get a look.
After the president was shot, UAW Local 72 members who had worked so hard for his election just three years before, were shocked and saddened. They sent UAW Local 72 President T.L. Russo to his funeral in Washington, D.C., to pay the local’s last respects.
Today, the late Jerry Bruno’s personal papers reside in the JFK Library, including planning materials, photographs, news clippings, funeral arrangements for Robert F. Kennedy; and the manuscript of Bruno’s book, “The Advance Man” (1971).