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Staff photo by COREY PERRINE

The bust of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, rests on its pedestal outside Nashua City Hall on Saturday. On Jan. 25, 1960, Kennedy made official his candidacy for president.
Monday, January 25, 2010

50 years ago, Nashua greeted JFK

Stacy Milbouer

It was snowy day on Main Street 50 years ago today. But, according to news report of the day, the sunshine appeared at the time Sen. John Kennedy stood in front of Nashua City Hall and gave the first official speech of his presidential campaign. There’s a bronze bust of Kennedy to commemorate that event, but there are Nashua residents who don’t need to see the sculpture in order to remember. They were there.

Unlike the long primary season we’re now used to, Kennedy announced his candidacy Jan. 2, just a few weeks before his Nashua speech. The New Hampshire primary was held just six weeks later, on March 8, when Kennedy beat out businessman Paul Fisher for New Hampshire’s Democratic delegates to the national convention.

According to the Jan. 25, 1960, Nashua Telegraph, then an evening newspaper, “On a typical wintry New Hampshire day, Nashua greeted presidential candidate John F. Kennedy (D-Mass) and hundreds of citizens bid him a traditionally warm and enthusiastic New England welcome. Sen. Kennedy – a boyish looking 42 … well tanned from a recent Jamaica vacation smiling broadly, shook hands with nearly all present … brought the sun with him, for seconds after his motorcade arrived at the state line, when sun broke through a heavy overcast while the snow continued to fall.”

John Latvis, founder of Latvis Insurance Agency in Nashua, was 39 years old the day Kennedy began his campaign in front of City Hall.

“I was riding down Main Street, and I was very busy. I knew he was coming to City Hall, but I didn’t realize it was that day. But I saw a lot of people gathering around so I stopped to look, and I realized JFK was visiting inside,” Latvis recalled.

“I was friendly with (Mayor) Mario Vagge so I walked into the mayor’s office. There were television and newspaper people there and someone was putting makeup on Kennedy. Somebody yelled out, ‘Who’s going to get the coffee?’ I said, ‘I’ll do it. ’ I went across the street to the Yankee Flyer (diner) and got 12 cups of coffee. I told the person who was pouring the cups that one of them was going to be for the next president of the United States. I went back to City Hall, and we all had coffee and talked a little. Then he went out to talk to the crowd, and I stood with the crowd to listen. A Telegraph photographer took a picture and I was in it.”

Latvis still beams when he thinks about it.

“I was thrilled to meet Kennedy, such a young person. I had gotten my MBA at Harvard. Of course, Kennedy went to Harvard, too. And we’d both been in the service in World War II. I voted for him and was very proud to meet him. I remember he was a very tall, lean, well-built and good-looking. And he had a great personality, just like you see on TV. He had that Kennedy smile.”

The account of Kennedy’s Nashua stop in The Telegraph that day bears out Latvis’ recollection.

“After several minutes . . . of hand-shaking and well wishing with local citizens, Kennedy went to Mayor Mario. J. Vagge’s office for a five minute coffee break and informal discussion with the mayor. Just before taking coffee, Sen. Kennedy met the obviously delighted City Hall office girls.

“My father, (Francis “Jim” Madigan) was a Kennedy fanatic,” said Nashua native Patty Ledoux. “Like Kennedy, he was a Democrat, World War II veteran and Irish Catholic, and he had a lot of hope for this young man. There had never been a Catholic in the White House.”

“I was 7, and I remember my father taking me downtown and standing in the parking lot that’s now next to The Persian Rug Gallery. It was really crowded. I remember Kennedy was shaking hands with people he passed in the parking lot. I got close to him, and my father shook his hand, but I didn’t, and I was always sorry I didn’t. I do remember that Kennedy was good-looking and to me looked like someone’s really nice dad.”

Even the day’s Telegraph was enamoured of his appearance: “The tall junior senator from Massachusetts, wearing a dark blue pinstripe suit, navy blue polka dot tie, pin stripe shirt and the friendly Kennedy grin, shook hands with everyone in the glare of flash bulbs and strobe lights.”

Ledoux remembers after the primary, her father made a bet with his friend Leo Niquette from Hudson, “a huge Nixon fan.”

“My father said, ‘If Nixon wins, I’ll push you down Main Street in a wheelbarrow. If Kennedy wins, you push me.’ Sure enough, after the election, Leo started on Main Street in front of what’s now the Grace Fellowship Church and pushed my father all the way to City Hall. My father bought a real top hat, and got all dressed up and wore Kennedy buttons all over and held a sign that said, ‘Pack your bags Mamie, the Kennedys are moving in.’ ”

Stacy Milbouer can be reached at stacym34@gmail.com.