Donna Kendall was an Endicott Junior College student working in the toy department at Jordan Marsh in Peabody when an announcement came over the loudspeaker.
The company rarely used its public address system, Kendall said, and even then only for important announcements.
The day was Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. The announcement was that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.
“It was like this cloud,” said Kendall, who has lived in Danvers for 44 years. Her eyes welled up with tears as she recalled wondering what was happening to the world.
The department store closed early that afternoon and asked shoppers and employees to gather their belongings and leave in an orderly fashion. Quietly, they did, Kendall said.
“Nobody talked. It became like a tomb, this shopping center,” she said. “All you could hear was the rustle of the people gathering their things.”
Kennedy’s death meant something different to Kendall. A year earlier, in June 1962, she was an 18-year-old Beverly High graduate representing Massachusetts at the National YMCA Youth Governors’ Conference in Washington, D.C. There, Kendall, then known as Donna Bushby, met Kennedy during a question-and-answer session at the White House with presidential adviser Ted Sorensen.
Kendall recalled that the student delegation had previously been told how important youth were to the president and that he would try to meet with them if his schedule allowed.
“All of a sudden, everyone was standing and clapping,” because the president had entered the room, Kendall said.
Kennedy welcomed the 36 teens to the White House and called Kendall’s name. She shook his hand and presented him with a special name tag that read, “John F. Kennedy President 1960-1968.”
Kendall recalled how impressed she and the other students were that Kennedy had made time for them.
“That was such a thrill for all of us,” she said. “He was just a dynamite human being.”
Cheryl Lecesse can be reached at 978-338-2664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.