The Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery is a remembrance of John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 50 years ago — Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. Other tributes to our 35th president are the more than 100 public schools named in his honor, including a building for elementary students in Mankato.
Kennedy Elementary, near the intersection of E. Main Street and Kennedy Street, opened three years after JFK’s death.
Today, students entering through its front doors pass by a framed portrait of JFK, a bronze sculpture of the late president and a work by Marian Anderson that superimposes Kennedy’s image over the Mankato school that bears his name.
It’s likely these students’ grandparents were in class that Friday in 1963 when the president was shot in Dallas.
Kennedy’s daughter, Carolyn, was not yet 6 years old the day of his funeral. His son, John Jr., was only 3.
Other District 77 buildings named after presidents include North Mankato’s hilltop school, Hoover Elementary School. Hoover and Kennedy were constructed out of a $1,300,000 bond issue authorized by voters in 1964. Similar designs were used for both buildings.
Costs for the Kennedy building and site came in at $675,364. A.J. Ross and Associates of Mankato designed the school’s team-teaching room and the 15 classrooms arranged around a central core of special areas. The Mankato school — built to house 500 pupils, kindergarten through sixth grades, had an estimated enrollment close to its capacity even before its bell’s inaugural ringing on Sept. 6, 1966.
Original plans called for three kindergarten rooms and 12 rooms for the older students — two sections for each grade. The new building featured a library, gymnasium with two physical education stations, offices and an all-purpose room which doubled as cafeteria space.
Mary Lu Hansen served as Kennedy’s first principal. She moved from the same position at Jefferson Elementary School.
Catherine Stegmaier taught kindergarten; Mary Bartelt, Harriet Schutter and Betty O’Sullivan, first grade; Karen Carlson, Eileen Wiaderko and Arlene Wiedman, second grade; Mary Senne and Jeanne Standish, third grade; Patricia Kotz, third and fourth grades; Alma Bohling, fourth grade; Dorothy Walser and Clara Schiller, fifth grade; and Lucile Klein and James Easton, sixth grade. Art classes were taught by Larry Gaarder and Ida Holzer; Emelyn Larson taught vocal music; instruction in instrumental music was from John Berg, Kenneth McTeague and Zada Utzinger. Patricia Mulford was the school’s speech therapist and Janette Young taught PE classes.
Marcella Bertand was the school’s librarian and Vernice Wessman was the school’s nurse. Psychologist James McDonald also was on the school’s special services staff. Luverne Bjerke took care of the school’s audio-visual services.
When staff and teachers showed the new building to the public during an open house in December 1966, its enrollment was at 432 and all the classrooms were occupied. To relieve crowding, some kindergarten pupils had been transferred to Washington Elementary School.
A time capsule was sealed during dedication ceremonies for Kennedy Elementary. In May 1986, students and staff began their celebration of the school’s 20th anniversary by joining hands and encircling the entire building. Later that day, the time capsule was opened.