Office of the VP for Communications – Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

Alumni Memories

  1. Worth the wait

    Re JFK at the Union: I recall standing with hundreds of others on State street by South U that fall evening. Kennedy was due to arrive at 10 pm but was more than 2 hours late but it just made the buildup more. His motorcade came from the south on State Street just a few feet from where I was standing. The crowd was electric with enthusiasm. He climbed to the top of the steps and was pleased that so many of us waited to see him. He made a joke about attending "the Michigan of the East" which drew applause and laughter. He spoke for about 15 minutes in which he encouraged us to get involved in aiding our country. I was impressed with his vigor and ability for leadership.

    • Raymond Mercier
    • B.A. 1962
  2. Barbour Gymnasium

    I attended the University of Michigan from 1955 to 1959. One of the most memorable events for me involved getting a physical on the elevated track above the floor of the Barbour Gymnasium. The track was inclined with an iron railing on the inside, and was covered with brown paper so the students enrolling down below could not see us as we had little or no clothes on. As I recall, the physicals were given by Med Students, which turned out to be an embarrassment for the women, as they went around clockwise, and the men went around the track counterclockwise. (A date later with a Med Student who had given the physical, could be embarrassing.) One student in front of me slipped and slid down the incline, stopping with his legs dangling under the bottom of the brown paper. I always wonder what the students down below thought as the legs appeared.

    • John Larson
    • B.S.M.E. 1959
  3. So much for curfew

    I was a freshman at U of M when then Senator Kennedy made his historic speech instigating the Peace Corps on the steps of the Michigan Union. (JFK at the Union)
    I sat on the Union steps for well over 3 hours waiting for the Senator’s arrival. We had to keep sending runners back to our dorm, the now defunct Victor Vaughn Hall, to ask permission to stay out late. At that time all women had to be in their dorms by 10 p.m. Finally Senator Kennedy and his entourage arrived–to our loud and grateful cheers! They came to the top of the steps, where I was standing. The Senator stood in the center with his minion around him. In front of me was a tall, fairly large man who was blocking my view. I politely tapped him on the back and asked him to please move as I couldn’t see Senator Kennedy. He said "I’m sorry" and graciously moved. A friend then said to me, "Do you know you just asked Gov. Romney to move"?! Well, I couldn’t see! He was very gracious! And, of course, Senator Kennedy’s speech and presence that night was a most auspicious and meaningful start to my career at the University of Michigan.
    My memories of Pres. Kennedy’s death while I was still at U of M are just as strong but, obviously, more painful. And to complete this saga I was the one who initiated the request to then Pres. Johnson to speak at our graduation in the Stadium. He did!

    • Linda Burson
    • B.A. (Theatre) 1964
  4. Right place, right time

    Re JFK at the Union: I was on the steps of the Michigan Union that morning. In fact, I am the person just behind Senator Kennedy’s left shoulder in the photograph. (To his right in the photo.) The one with the black frames. At the time I worked at the U-M TV Center, as a program producer-director

    The man to the Senator’s left (to his right in the photo) grinning at him was Tom Paine, who was running for Congress from Ann Arbor. I was his campaign aide, which is why I was on the steps. Earlier in the evening I had driven Paine’s campaign VW bus to Willow Run Airport to provide the PA system for Senator Kennedy when he addressed the crowd after landing there.

    The article mentions Mildred Jeffrey, the UAW official and Democratic committeewoman. (Actually, Millie was the National Committeewoman from Michigan, not a "state committeewoman".)She is the woman with the large ID badge, near the right edge of the photograph, looking down and to her left and grinning broadly. She was a good friend of the Senator’s and a close longtime ally of Walter Reuther, the visionary founder of the UAW.

    • Michael Berla
    • MA( Econ; 54) PhD( U & RP; 74) 54
  5. 10 feet from history


    • Barry Wood
    • BA AND JD 1961
  6. JFK's speech

    Re JFK at the Union: I was a freshman in the fall of 1960 and participated in Young Dems’ canvassing for JFK in Ypsi in September and October. Therefore I was picked to be one of the "Kennedy Girls" to go to the airport to greet JFK when he arrived. We all wore special hats and sashes. We waited there for a long time for his plane to land, then were in a bus that took part in the motorcade as it went to AA. Paul Heil, the Young Dems president, had announced that JFK would speak (tho JFK hadn’t planned to do so), which is why there were so many waiting at the Union. JFK was tired and upset about having to speak to the crowd, but indeed gave that inspiring address I was thrilled to hear despite the fact I expected to have many "late minutes" from my dorm (though later those were all excused).
    A coda: in summer 2008 I was at a fundraiser for Obama at which the main speaker was Caroline Kennedy. When I met her at the reception preceding her brief talk, I told her I had been present at the Union, and she referred to that in her remarks.

    • Mary Beth Norton
    • BA 1964
  7. Unforgettable!

    Re JFK at the Union: I watched the debate in the Union, then joined the crowd later and waited for a couple of hours till Kennedy arrived. Around 3 am there were literally thousands of students packed in front of the Union.
    The girls shrieked when Kennedy said "I came here tonight to go to bed" (some people claim he said "Going to bed with you all"). His speech was mesmerizing as was the whole event. We went home in an exuberant mood.
    Incidentally, when Nixon arrived some days later at the station, barely a hundred people were reported to have shown up.

    • Robert O. Kan
    • Ph.D. 1961
  8. JFK's speech

    Re JFK at the Union: I followed his advice: I went to bed. Then I went to teach in Europe for two years.

    • Thomas Augustine Carr
    • BA French/German 1963
  9. JFK at the Union

    I was one of the students who waited and waited to see JFK at the Union. I was standing in the street by the Union steps when his open top convertible came to a halt. I reached into the car, shook hands with him and Mrs. Kennedy–he was still wearing the blue dress shirt (TV lights)–and I wished him good luck in the election. He looked thin and tired. Senator Kennedy looked at me, smiled a little and said-"Thank you." Then he left the car and made the speech at the top of the steps. I was impressed.

    • Gerald F. Rosenblatt
    • J.D.