By Deke Barker []

November 22, 1963: I was just a high school junior at the time, taking a light load; with a full load of classes and two summer school courses, I could have graduated a year early, which I wasn't interested in doing. So I was doing "co-op", working three hours a day at a big credit union serving Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, coming back to school after work for the swimming team's workout. Anyway ...

Accounting and data processing were in the lower level and could be reached through the employee entrance without going through the lobby, so I hadn't seen anyone since I left school at 12:30, got some gas, ate some burgers in the McDonald's parking lot, and drove to work. I bounded down the stairs in my usual good cheer and shouted out my normal greeting to the twenty or so people in the downstairs offices, who for some reason were all congregated in the main room. I got a bunch of angry looks and a few impressively-vulgar requests that I cease talking, the one I remember being from a pretty, petite loan officer in her mid-20s who never had a harsh word for anyone. I asked what was going on, but everyone had turned back around, apparently listening to a radio. Finally, I got someone to tell me: "The president has been shot in Dallas!" I had arrived about 1:00 p.m. While I was still standing there in a state of disbelief in my letter jacket and gloves, the radio announced that it was getting reports that Kennedy was dead.

At the time, I was halfway familiar with local politics, but I knew nothing about national politics. My mother had voted for Kennedy, but my father had reluctantly voted for Nixon out of classic Protestant concerns about the potential influence of the RCC (the pope) over the president, which he later admitted was not one of his brighter moments. About the only thing I knew about the administration (mostly positive) came from my father, who a year or so earlier had turned down an offer to run the Latin American section of the Agency for International Development.

The people I worked with, however, were big Kennedy fans. Most of the staff were Roman Catholics, and even though a few had voted for Nixon, they were all very proud of Kennedy. The one who was most jolted by the news was the chief accountant, an Iraqi-Xian (Marionite?) immigrant who simply couldn't believe that this could happen in America. A few minutes later, the president -- a Jew who was probably the biggest Kennedy fan at the credit union -- came down to our offices. He told us to serve the people who came in, do whatever we absolutely had to do, and don't worry about anything else. He did this with a straight, calm face, and then turned and practically ran back upstairs, trying to hold himself together until he got to the safe confines (and privacy) of his office.

I remember absolutely nothing about the rest of the day, except that I watched a lot of the TV coverage. I do know that the reaction of the people at DFCU had a lasting impact on me.

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