The city of Nashua has a special distinction in the political career of President John F. Kennedy.
It was in front of Nashua’s City Hall on Jan. 25, 1960, where the then Massachusetts Senator held the first stop in his campaign for president.
“I do not know any time in the life of this country when a comparable responsibility has been placed upon the people of the United States. And therefore, what we start here in New Hampshire today, I believe must succeed next summer and next November” – Kennedy, during his speech in Nashua.
A bronze bust of John F. Kennedy Jr. stands in City Hall Plaza in Nashua, marking the place where Kennedy spoke and his road to the White House began.
Installed in 1965, it’s a bit worn down, but John Latvis was there that snowy day, and his memories are crystal clear.
“He was smiling all the way. And he had a firm handshake and looked you straight in the eye. It was just an amazing experience. Of course, I didn’t know if he was going to become president. But I was hoping he would and it was quite an experience to meet him.”
Latvis was 39 at the time and says he knew Kennedy was supposed to be in town; so when he saw a crowd of hundreds gathered in front of City Hall, he stopped, hoping to meet him.
He was able to make his way into a private gathering with Kennedy by volunteering to get the coffee.
“I left the City Hall and went across the street to the Yankee Flyer. I said I want 12 cups of coffee for the next president of the United States."
Dolly Bellavance was working in the city clerk’s office that day.
“We knew he was coming. But we didn’t know that John F. Kennedy was going to come right to our desk and shake hands with all of us. And so it was just the thrill of my life to meet him.”
She recalls a young man with charisma, who was warm and cordial with the staff and as handsome as ever.
“We didn’t wash our right hand for at least a week. And he was just…it was just such a unique opportunity for us to meet him. Here we were, working, a regular work day, and in walked the future president of the United States.”
Of course, Kennedy would go on to win the New Hampshire primary and then the presidency. Then, less than three years into his term, he was assassinated in Dallas.
Latvis says like all Americans, he was stunned and devastated when he heard the news.
“I couldn’t believe that just a short while before that I had met him. I thought back to all the nice things that he had done for our country and I just thought it was a shame that it happened.”
Latvis says having Kennedy start his presidential campaign in Nashua was a compliment to the city.
“I don’t know why he picked Nashua, but of all the places in the world, it was our good fortune to have him start his campaign here.”
Dean Shalhoup has been working at the Nashua Telegraph for just more than four decades.
He says with a Democratic mayor at the time and its geographic location, Nashua was a logical choice.
“I think what they did was reach out to then-Senator Kennedy as he started his campaign in New Hampshire, here in Nashua. And plus you had the Gate City factor. It’s the most southern and it’s only 35 or so miles from his hometown of Brookline.”
Shalhoup sees it as a milestone in Nashua’s history and a unique moment in the state’s first-in-the-nation primary.
“President Kennedy did visit Nashua once or twice again to appear at events while he was in office. But I think the fact that he kicked off his very popular presidency, what turned out to be a huge piece of American history, means a lot.”
And Shalhoup says he’s glad that bronze bust of JFK will be in front of City Hall for years to come, reminding the next generation of where his rise to the presidency began.