Memories of JFK at Moravian Still Vivid

Senator John F. Kennedy addressed a crowd at Moravian's Johnston Hall during a campaign stop October 28, 1960. Photo courtesy of Chester Galle '61.

A little more than 50 years ago — October 28, 1960 a young senator, relatively new to the political scene, flew into ABE airport, breezed into Bethlehem, and delivered an electrifying presidential campaign speech in Moravian College's Johnston Hall. A boisterous crowd of 9,000 packed the hall and spilled out onto the grounds beyond, where they listened to the speech projected by loudspeakers.

Senator John F. Kennedy spoke of America's declining prestige in the world, the poor state of the economy, and the need for individual citizens to step up "to build a society which will augment freedom, which will serve as a beacon of light to all those who now wish to be free."

Moravian faculty members and alumni from the Classes of 1960 to '63 recall the morning vividly; the 15-minute talk, punctuated by frequent applause, left an indelible impression even on those who would in later years come to identify themselves as solid Republicans. The speech was carried on local radio and television, and the first two classes of the day were cancelled.

"I hoped I would get to see him, but all the girls took over," said Joe Castellano '61.

"Kennedy was a charismatic fellow—he had natural appeal," says Daniel Gilbert, professor emeritus of history. "He struck a chord with the younger faculty—we were very excited about his candidacy and what he represented." Gilbert points out that Moravian's director of finance, facilities, and development at the time, Robert P. Snyder, "was a rock-ribbed Republican," but knew that bringing Kennedy to campus would boost the College's image.

Joe Castellano '61, former president of the Moravian College Alumni Board, remembers staying up the entire previous night to decorate the gym. "I hoped I would get to see him, but all the girls took over," he says. "Certainly, being a Catholic, this election really meant something to me."

With Bethlehem Steel and the unions going strong, the City of Bethlehem was decidedly Democratic, and many union members were in the audience. Alumna Jean Friedman '63 remembers that many of those representatives were women who chanted, "we want Kennedy, we want Kennedy."

"It was thrilling and tense," says Friedman. "When he finally walked in the room, it took my breath away. He looked handsome, but had bloodshot eyes after having had only a cat nap on the way to the College." Friedman, who was a member of the Young Democrats and assigned to greet Kennedy when he arrived, remembers tapping the senator on the shoulder to ask for a photo. "He turned around, furious, and I said, 'welcome to Moravian College,' and then he laughed and asked the way to Johnston Hall." Chester Galle '61 snapped a photo, but had forgotten to connect a flash to the camera. Moments later, Kennedy entered the gymnasium, and "the audience went crazy," recalls Friedman.

"As the USG president, I was on the podium and got to shake his hand," says Ron DePaolo '64. "It was kinda limp, too much flesh-pressing probably. But he did smile at me. I didn't wash my hand for a month."

Kennedy addressed the students, faculty members, steelworkers, and housewives in attendance, calling for a higher rate of economic growth, higher minimum wage, medical care for the aged, and federal funding to increase accessibility to higher education.

"Freedom demands more of people than any other system," said Kennedy at Moravian. "It requires a higher development of those qualities of self-discipline and character and restraint than any other system." Listen to the entire speech at the American Presidency Project Website. Check out event photos by Chester Galle on the our Facebook Page.