John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site (JOFI), the birthplace of the 35th President of the United States, is celebrating two important milestones in 2017. First, Friday, May 26 marked the 50th anniversary of JOFI’s creation in 1967 as the result of the gift by the Kennedy family of their former Brookline, Massachusetts home to the National Park Service (NPS). Second, Monday, May 29 marked the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth at the home in 1917.
JOFI had a big celebration of President Kennedy’s “100th birthday” over the long weekend of May 26-29. The weekend kicked off on May 26 with the annual program involving the nearby Edward Devotion School, where John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) attended elementary school for three years. The event, which due to rain was moved indoors to the historic Coolidge Corner Theatre, was the culmination the 3rd graders studying JFK’s life and legacy and then preparing class poems and individual essays on the topic of “What JFK Means to Me.”
After an extremely busy visitation weekend on Saturday and Sunday, May 27 and May 28, a large outdoor celebration took place Monday, May 29 on Beals Street in front of the birthplace, as well as at other venues around Brookline.
That morning, JOFI lead ranger and Army National Guard veteran Jason Atsales was joined by Leslie Obleschuk (Minute Man National Historical Park), Alan Banks and Mark Swartz (Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site), Liza Stearns and Bob Fleming (Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area), Celena Illuzzi (Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation), and Ethan Beeler (Boston National Historical Park), at Brookline’s annual Memorial Day procession and ceremony, which was dedicated to veteran John F. Kennedy. Banks, a Coast Guard veteran, offered a 10-minute tribute to veterans JFK, older brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., who died in World War II, and younger brother Robert F. Kennedy, as well as their “Gold Star” parents Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy.
That afternoon, several hundred attended a formal program on Beals Street outside JOFI in which special guests read excerpts of JFK speeches, offering personal reflections on the words and JFK’s legacy. Among the guest readers were former Massachusetts Governor and presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis, former National Aeronautics and Space Administration Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, and retired US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner. After these readings and comments, the program continued with a Special Stamp Dedication Ceremony with US Postal Service Boston Postmaster Nicolas Francescucci and NPS Deputy Regional Director Rose Fennell, followed by speakers that included JOFI Supervisory Park Ranger Jim Roberts, Devotion School 4th grader Rebecca Soto, Harvard Kennedy School of Government Professor Fredrik Logevall, and the headliner Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, great-nephew of the 35th president.
During the morning and throughout the afternoon, while the formal program was taking place, the Kennedy house was open to the public in an “open house” format. Nearly 800 people were counted as going through the house on a cold, damp, and relatively dreary day outside. Among the people attending were several former JOFI seasonal rangers, volunteer-in-parks, and Student Conservation Association interns, including Park Ranger Sarah Reynolds (Ocmulgee National Monument, and Dexter Phan, visiting from Virginia. They joined a robust staff of JOFI rangers, interns, and volunteers, as well as rangers from the National Parks of Boston and Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.
Finally, that evening, the Coolidge Corner Theatre presented a special showing of the movie Apollo 13 honoring JFK’s contributions to the space program, and Brookline restaurateur Jim Solomon held a 1960’s-style “sock hop” dance party at the Brookline High School gymnasium.