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Last Minute Usher Remembers JFK Visit In 1959

Jenna Dooley
JFK display at the Egyptian Theater on Oct. 25, 2016

Betty Hampa of Genoa was a freshman at Northern Illinois University in 1959. She says her friends invited her to volunteer as an usher at the Egyptian Theater for a visit by the then-Senator of Massachusetts.

“I just remember that he said things that would excite young people," Hampa recalls. "He seemed like he talked about going to the moon… a lot of exciting things. Because he was young, he was handsome. He just had this charisma about him or something that just really grabbed you."

Top left: photo collage in Egyptian Theater lobby before 2016 playing of JFK speech. Top right: 1959 newspaper clipping Bottom left: 1959 newspaper clipping Bottom right: Egyptian Theater stage for 2016 playing of JFK speech

Hampa got a chance to relive that speech Tuesday night at DeKalb’s Egyptian Theater. Organizers played a donated and restored copy of the address on the same day and same stage as the original. He talks about relations with China and the Soviet Union—and calls for Americans to avoid going “soft.”

Hampa sat and listened once more to the words of JFK in 2016—looking to the same stage—but now decades later—with a different perspective.

“I think when you are young, the whole world is out there and you don’t quite know where you are going and where you are going to fit in that world. Now, we have the privilege of hindsight.”

The 18-minute remarks also talk about the space race and returning the country to a pioneering spirit.

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.
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