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Where were you when Kennedy was shot?

November 21, 2013

Jean Ciardella, 81, a resident of St. Germain Manor, with a bust of President John F. Kennedy.

WOONSOCKET – She lives at Kennedy Manor today on Clinton Street, but on Nov. 22, 1963, Sandra Davis, 61, had been in school in her sixth-grade classroom at the Fifth Avenue Elementary School in Fairmount.

“Mr. Page, my teacher, came into the classroom and announced President Kennedy has just been shot. I’ll never forget it,” Davis said while sitting with friends in the Kennedy Manor community room.

Davis, who is a member of her mother Margie Desrosiers’ crochet group at Kennedy Manor, said times were different for kids back in the Cold War days than they are today.

“In those days we would have drills and hide under our desks to avoid radiation. I think of it today and wonder what good it would have done,” she said. The killing of President Kennedy still lingers with her today, she said. “I think it was horrible,” she said.

Her mother remembers watching it all unfold on television. “At the time we couldn’t believe it,” she said. Desrosiers’ father Nello Giromini, who operated an automobile business in Woonsocket, had sat with Kennedy on a plane flight home while he was a senator and remembered their conversations in a letter sent to her father after the trip. Her sister, Jeannette, still has the letter, Desrosiers said.

Jean Ciardella, 81, a resident of St. Germain Manor on East School Street, remembers watching television when she got the news.
“I was watching All My Children on TV and the news bulletin broke in and they said the president had been shot,” Ciardella said. “I said ‘Oh wow,’ it just shouldn’t have happened,” the former resident of Framingham, Mass., said. “He was a very nice man, a very nice man. It just shouldn’t have happened.”

Patricia Bearden, 82, lives at Kennedy Manor today, but had been living and working in College Park, Md., about 20 minutes from Washington, D.C., when Kennedy was assassinated.

“I was 28 and it was my day off from work,” Bearden said. “I heard on the radio that President Kennedy was in Dallas and he had just been shot. I couldn’t believe it and I still can’t believe it,” Bearden said.

Bearden remembers going into Washington to see President Kennedy’s flag-draped coffin under the Capitol dome, but found thousands and thousands of people trying to do the same thing. “We couldn’t get in the door so we left,” she said. Today, at least, Bearden said she can see Kennedy’s portrait any day she goes into the Kennedy Manor community room.

The loss America experienced on Nov. 22, 1963, could also be felt in Pawtucket to this day, too.

Mayor James Doyle said he recalls the moment vividly. He was a young teacher at Shea High School in Pawtucket and was standing at the front of the classroom when the news about the president being shot came over the school’s public address system.

“Everyone was just stunned. And I remember being over at my father’s house on Abrams Street and we were all glued to the TV for the entire weekend, like everyone was,” Doyle recalled. He noted he was also watching when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. “I saw that live as well. It was a terrible thing.”

Tony Pires, director of administration for the Grebien Administration, said he was an undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island and was out on campus tossing a football around with his fraternity brothers “when someone came out and said the president had been shot in Dallas.”

“I remember saying, ‘Oh my God!’ ” and everyone went in and watched the news. He added that he was dating his wife at the time and came home for the weekend, and remembers just sitting in front of the TV with her “like everyone else.”

Maurice Peloquin, 78, was a young roofer working for OP French Co. on a roof at Third Avenue and Fairmount the day President Kennedy was killed.

“I saw two women crying on a porch below me and I yelled at them, ‘What happened?’ ” Peloquin said. “They said the president just got shot. “I felt bad,” Peloquin remembered.

“I had got to see him at Kennedy Plaza in Providence when he was running for president,” Peloquin said. “I still feel bad about it and think of his family.”

Peloquin remembers his boss felt bad, too, 50 years ago, and gave his workers the day off for Kennedy’s funeral.

Florence Brodeur, 90, a former president of the Kennedy Manor senior citizens group, said she was living at 640 Social St. the day President Kennedy was shot.

“My son, Leo Brodeur, was in the Navy and in he called me and told me the president had died. He was crying and we were crying,” Brodeur said while remembering how she and her husband, Ray, had received the news.

“The whole world cried,” Brodeur said.

A resident of Kennedy Manor for 30 years, Brodeur said she met the late president’s brother, Edward M. Kennedy, when he stopped in to visit the Manor’s residents, and also got to know his son, Patrick J. Kennedy, while he was the area’s congressman. Brodeur has even seen Patrick at the manor since he left office.

“The last time he was here he had his little boy, Owen, with him,” Brodeur said. She added she was happy to hear on Wednesday that Patrick and his wife are now also parents of a new daughter, Nora Kara.
As for Patrick’s uncle? “50 years ago tomorrow, that’s sad,” Brodeur said. “It’s always going to be sad.”

Reporter Donna Kenny Kirwan of The Times also contributed to this story.

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