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JFK collection brings history into E. Allegheny classrooms

| Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, 10:17 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Stephen Russell describes John F. Kennedy memorabilia to East Allegheny High School freshmen Quante Jones, Tyler Rogers and Sarah Pais on Thursday.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
East Allegheny High School social studies teacher Dennis Edwards reviews photographs of John F. Kennedy and other U.S. presidents with students in his Advanced Placement history course.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
From the personal collection of Stephen Russell, memorabilia including campaign buttons and photographs of President John F. Kennedy were on display Thursday at East Allegheny High School.

East Allegheny students received an interactive education about the nation's 35th president on Thursday.

John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago, shot as his motorcade rode through Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Educator Stephen Russell said he has been profoundly influenced by Kennedy's legacy. The retired Belle Vernon Area superintendent brought much of his collection of Kennedy memorabilia to the East Allegheny High School library.

Social studies classes have been learning about Kennedy this week, and students from eighth through 12th grades got a chance to look at pieces of history.

“I had the privilege and pleasure of supporting John F. Kennedy through his presidency as a child,” Russell told the students. “My question to you is, what 10-year-old takes an interest in a presidential candidate and becomes passionate about it? Eat, sleep and drink John F. Kennedy, that's basically what I did. The man was very inspiring.”

The collection includes buttons from Kennedy's presidential campaign and inaugural. It has Secret Service albums of Kennedy's trips to Central America. There are posters, photo albums, books about the assassination and a response to a letter Russell wrote to Kennedy expressing his support for the Massachusetts senator aspiring to be president.

“I was delighted to receive your thoughtful letter,” Kennedy wrote. “I am indeed pleased to know of your interest in the affairs of our country, and I am especially pleased that you are ‘in my corner' in this election. I am proud to number you among my supporters.”

Freshman Quante Jones said the memorabilia gave him a better understanding of the times in which Kennedy lived.

“I've been going over how he was assassinated and all the conspiracies,” Quante said.

Freshman John Sadvary said he spoke to his grandfather about Kennedy on Wednesday to prepare for Thursdays interactive lesson.

“We were talking about what went down and where he was,” John said. “We were talking about the bullets and the gun that was used. We were talking about Lee Harvey (Oswald), a little bit about everything JFK.”

Of the collection, he said “I'm amazed. (Russell) must have gone through a lot of trouble to get all of this.”

Russell said he was invited to East Allegheny by superintendent and friend Roger D'Emidio.

Dennis Edwards, who teaches 11th-grade Advanced Placement U.S. History and 12th-grade college and high school government, said the presentation was a very positive experience for the students.

“We get to look at the history and actually get to see something tangible to go along with what we're reading in our books and discussing in our classes,” Edwards said. “With this particular connection, it actually becomes life for them and it's not something just in the pages of a book. It happened. It's real. I can touch the results of that, and I think that's one of the big things that makes today so great.”

“I'm pretty excited about it because I love history, and it's really interesting to see how things are different from back then to now,” junior Christina Branch said. “It's just interesting to see pieces of history up close and personal. It helps you go back and try to piece together all that happened.”

The exhibit was open to the public later on Thursday.

Russell said he became interested in Kennedy through a homework assignment in the fifth grade at Rostraver Township School District's LaGrange Elementary in December 1959.

“We were to bring back at the New Year an article of a current event, and I took it seriously even though I wasn't a good student,” Russell said. “I saw this article in a newspaper on Kennedy and his wife. I said, ‘This guy's interesting.' And that was my current event article. That ignited what came afterward.”

Russell wrote to tell Kennedy about his interest in politics and history, and that he had created a Kennedy Club at school.

Russell has archived artifacts since his volunteer work on the Kennedy campaign as a sixth-grade student. He attended Kennedy's inauguration on Jan. 20, 1961.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or

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