| Neighborhoods

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Rutkoski: A look back at Kennedy from a teenage newsboy

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch staff writer Rex Rutkoski with his Kennedy assassination memorabilia and an autographed poster when John F. Kennedy was a candidate for president.

For Trib Total Media’s full coverage of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, go to our special section.

Daily Photo Galleries

AlleKiski Valley Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 11:00 p.m.

Decades later, many of the images remain as crisp as that historic day in Washington, D.C.

I was 13 on Jan. 20, 1961, and in the nation's capital with about a dozen other Valley Daily News (now Valley News Dispatch) newspaper carriers who had earned trips to John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration.

We left Jan. 18 by train from what is now the Grand Concourse Restaurant in Pittsburgh's Station Square, arriving in Washington the next morning for a day of touring.

The profits from my carrier collections from the previous weeks burned a hole in my pocket. I quickly became every souvenir huckster's best friend.

Today, those souvenirs have acquired for me the status of valued treasures.

The inaugural program booklet remains mostly intact, if a bit wrinkled, in a bedroom drawer. A poster welcoming “Jack” hangs on a bedroom wall.

A snowstorm that the Washington Post described as “crippling” howled into the city that Thursday before the big ceremony. About 3,000 men and 500 trucks were summoned to work through the night to clear snow from the parade route.

A 6-inch snowfall was predicted by inaugural morning. A downtown department store reported it was selling long johns “as fast as we can bring them in from the stockrooms.” Most buyers were from out of town.

My mom packed my thermal underwear. I needed it as we walked the streets during the inaugural morning. The snow had stopped, but the temperatures were frigid.

Even at that young age, I think we appreciated that we should not let wind chills distract us from this special moment.

We shivered, but we listened to the words echoing from building to building over the public address system.

There was the legendary poet, Robert Frost, in his late 80s, proclaiming, “The land was ours before we were the land's.” Frost was the first poet to read at an inaugural ceremony.

Three years later, both he and the president he honored with his poetry would be dead.

It was not until years later that we fully took to heart Kennedy's wisdom: “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.”

We eventually understood: we were that generation.

Our top concern was finding a good place among the throngs — an estimated 1 million people were wrapped in blankets with hoods pulled over their heads.

The snapshots and notations in my yellowed attic scrapbook serve as a reminder of who passed in front of us that day: Robert Kennedy, Harry Truman, President and Mrs. Kennedy. My thoughts, as the Kennedys went by, traveled back three months earlier.

On Oct. 15, 1960, then-Sen. John Kennedy made a campaign stop in Kittanning.

My dad, a Democratic committeeman and a news correspondent who had the gift of talking us into places we might not have belonged, made sure I was stationed in the hall where Kennedy would pass to and from his speech.

As JFK walked toward me, I lifted my “Kennedy For President, Leadership for the '60's” poster, now framed and hanging proudly above me in my study as I write this, and summoned all the 12-year old courage I could muster.

“Would you please sign this sir?” I asked.

The man who would soon be president obliged.

As Paul Simon once sang, “Time it was, and what a time it was.”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-226-4664.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read AlleKiski Valley

  1. Armstrong inmate escapee charged with murdering family matriarch
  2. Captured Armstrong jail escapee Crissman’s criminal history
  3. New Kensington-Arnold committee discusses ways to combat bullying
  4. Winfield supervisors OK natural gas-drilling regulations
  5. High-rise medical visits aimed at curbing 911 calls in New Kensington
  6. USW rallies in support of ATI, other steel companies’ employees
  7. Avonmore mayor to resign after being charged with theft
  8. Child pornography videos tied to Winfield man
  9. South Butler superintendent heads home for Mohawk job
  10. Northbound Rt. 28 ramp to 31st Street Bridge closed tonight
  11. Most A-K Valley districts avoid tax increase