GOSHEN — Former Goshen Mayor Mike Puro and current Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman each remember where they were 50 years ago today when they received word that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
They were in the same room inside Goshen High School as freshmen in Fred Blosser’s math class. That afternoon Blosser’s wife, a secretary to the principal, entered the classroom and had a quick conversation with her husband.
“She was upset,” Puro remembers. “Mr. Blosser kept on teaching the class after saying an announcement would be made at the beginning of the next class. And just before the class ended, Mr. Blosser told us that because we were in an advanced math class, we were mature enough and he told us the president had been assassinated.”
Kauffman recalls the sense of shock the news had on the student body.
“I remember kids walking in the hallways, dumbfounded,” Kauffman said. “It was incredulous. Kids were passing in the hall saying, ‘It can’t be possible.’ It had never happened before (in their lifetimes). It wasn’t announced over the PA system. Each teacher told us in their class.”
It was a Friday, and Goshen was scheduled to host a basketball game that night with Fort Wayne North Side.
They played the game, but it was somber,” said Puro, who was a member of the GHS pep band. “(School officials) had said JFK would want us to play that game.”
Both Puro and Kauffman went on to graduate from Goshen High School in 1967 and later serve as Democrats on Goshen’s City Council. Puro was elected mayor in 1987 and served in office from 1988 to 1997 when he resigned with more than two years left on his final term. Kauffman was selected to complete Puro’s four-year term and has since been re-elected to office four times.
Kennedy, both say, was an inspiration in their lives.
“It was not his assassination but his election (that inspired me),” Puro said, “I was interested as a sixth-grader during a mock election we held when Kennedy ran for office. I got extremely interested in politics and I was hooked. I started following all politics in seventh-grade after hearing his famous speech.”
That speech was JFK’s inauguration address in 1961 when he said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Puro said he decided on a career of public service to make an impact on his community.
“His words clicked with me,” Puro said. “I answered that challenge Kennedy made and worked with the community to make it better.”
Kauffman said the death of Kennedy didn’t influence him, although he was involved with Young Democrats.
“I didn’t think about (a career in politics) until after high school,” Kauffman said.
The mayor said many young people were influenced by Kennedy since he was the youngest president to be elected. Kennedy was just 46 when he died.
“He sure got young people engaged in volunteer service and politics,” Kauffman said. “He related to the younger generation. He established the Peace Corps and he communicated with the public better than presidents in the past. He was a communicator. He was the first candidate to use TV and he was born in the (same) century. He was the first candidate to use a song in his campaign.”
Arvis Dawson, executive assistant to Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, was a fifth-grader at Mollison Elementary School in Chicago, Ill. when Kennedy was slain.
“I remember it was the first time I heard a teacher in class say ‘damn,’ after hearing the news,” Dawson said. “We got out of school early and watched the events on a 12-inch black and white TV. It was gloomy the entire weekend. The weather was sad, everyone was sad just watching it on TV. It was a gloomy time for our nation and the weather was the same. It was unbelievable.”
Like Puro and Kauffman, Dawson has served in public service most of his career. It was JFK’s death that piqued Dawson’s involvement with politics.
“It heightened my involvement in politics and the need to be involved,” Dawson said. “I remember we had a picture of Jesus Christ and Kennedy hanging on a wall at home growing up. They were both important.”
The words from Kennedy’s inauguration address impacted Dawson’s life, as well.
“All my life as an American and as a politician I’ve tried to personify those words,” Dawson said. “I want to make it a better place than what I found it. ...I’ve made decisions, not all of them popular. I made tough decisions. I try to make sure I leave the day better than when I started.”