By Michael Quinlin
John F. Kennedy has an everlasting presence in Massachusetts.
The nation’s 35th president and native son has been an inspiration to the Bay State throughout his life and also for more than half a century after his death.
Activities surrounding JFK’s centennial on May 29 became an outpouring of respect, gratitude, praise and hope from every corner of the Commonwealth, reminding all how President Kennedy’s memory continues to affect the political, religious, cultural and historical spheres of the place he proudly called home.
The headquarters for keeping the JFK legacy alive is the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum at Columbia Point in Boston, a magnificent building on 10 acres between Boston Harbor and the city’s skyline.
It is one of 14 presidential libraries run by the National Archives and Records Administration.
The four-day celebration marking JFK 100, from May 26-29, drew 5,386 visitors to the Library.
This broke the attendance record set in 1979 when the library first opened, according to Steven M. Rothstein, executive director of the JFK Library Foundation.
Festivities began last Friday, when the library launched its year-long exhibit, “JFK 100: Milestones and Mementos,” chronicling the president’s career, administration and personal and family life.
The exhibit features 100 items, including 40 that have never been seen by the public before.
On Saturday, Peace Corps volunteers gathered to celebrate President Kennedy’s most enduring initiatives, the U.S. Peace Corps, which has placed 215,000 volunteers in 141 countries.
Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III, a peace corps volunteer himself, addressed the audience.
“President Kennedy saw a nation that was the best version of itself, a place that found power not only in strength but in justice and decency. Your service is woven throughout our brightest chapters,” Congressman Kennedy told the volunteers.
On Sunday, the library celebrated Kennedy’s mission to land a man on the moon.
NASA leaders Christopher Cassidy and Su Curley spoke about space exploration and equipment, and the library provided hands-on activities for space enthusiasts.
President Kennedy’s 100th birthday happened to fall on Memorial Day, and there was patriotic flair to the festivities, with performance by the U.S. Navy Band, the Boston City Singers and high school choirs.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke about President Kennedy’s hallowed status in Ireland, and in the Irish-American community. He praised President Kennedy’s work on behalf of veterans.
“President Kennedy was a wounded warrior, who carried his pain from his injuries all the way to the White House,” Mayor Walsh said.
“He was part of the Gold Star families; he lost his older brother Joe, his hero and his mentor” in World War II.
President Kennedy, Mayor Walsh said, helped us strive for “perfection: living a life of complete purpose is all anyone can ever hope for. The President showed us how to do that.”
A highlight for the children was a seven foot deep and eight foot wide birthday cake of over 1,000 servings, made by Montilio’s Bakery in Brockton.
The family-run bakery’s connection with the Kennedy family goes back generations, says owner George Montilio, whose father Ernest baked the wedding cake for John and Jacqueline and also the inauguration cake for the president’s election.
There were other JFK 100 celebrations around the state.
The John F. Kennedy National Historic Site, where President Kennedy was born, hosted a birthday party on May 29 featuring free tours, music and a birthday cake.
Congressman Kennedy kicked off the activities, while former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, and his wife Kitty, read excerpts from Kennedy’s famous speeches.
On Cape Cod, the John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis opened a new exhibit on May 22 titled, JFK at 100: Life and Legacy.
Designed by Roger Westerman, the exhibit highlights the impact and importance that Hyannis and Cape Cod had on President Kennedy’s life.
In Springfield, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Parks Director Patrick Sullivan observed the 100th birthday of President John F. Kennedy on May 26 with a memorial at the Eternal Flame memorial in Forest Park, where they laid a wreath.
And at Fenway Park on Friday, the Boston Red Sox held pre-game ceremonies honoring President Kennedy before playing the Seattle Mariners.
Irish singer and Cambridge police officer Pauline Wells sang the national anthem. More at www.jfklibrary.org