Posted: Sep 26, 2013 9:24 PM by Tara Grimes - MTN News
Updated: Sep 27, 2013 7:34 AM
50 years ago on this day, John F. Kennedy stopped by Great Falls in a campaign to gather more votes for the 1964 election.
Half a century ago, his visit changed the life of one Havre man.
Charles Gallus met JFK 50 years ago.
"He's always been my political hero since he ran for president in 1960," Gallus said.
The memories of John F Kennedy's visit to Great Falls are as fresh in Gallus' mind as though it were just yesterday.
"The roar of the crowd was so great that we could not hear the boy scout band playing ‘Hail to the Chief'.
Gallus was only 16-years-old then and he was just one of estimately over 100,000 people to show up in the Electric City that day, and he says even those who didn't agree with JFK were happy to see him.
Gallus said, "It was just a sense of community. Like 'here's our leader, our commander in chief, boy doesn't he look great today. It was a really neat feeling."
People lined 10th Avenue for his arrival and many more crammed into Great Falls High Memorial Stadium to hear his speech.
A University of Great Falls professor, Vernon Pedersen said, "Kennedy gave a three-part speech while he was here in Great Falls. Part number one was his vision for how America's role in the Cold War, part number two was his program to alleviate poverty and to raise up forgotten groups in the United States and part three was his program on conservation."
However, it was what happened after the speech that Gallus says he remembers most.
"There was a sea of hands everywhere, there were hands over top of my head, past my hair, through my armpits and everything," Gallus said.
"I just happened to have my right hand extended over the mesh wire fence and President Kennedy came along. He stopped in front of me and said 'hi' and with his left hand he took my right hand and clasped it really hard. I looked up at him and said 'Mr President, Mr President" then he was gone."
But to the dismay and shock of many, it was less than two months later when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy.
The truth only settled in for Gallus the next when he was watching a Canadian broadcast the next night.
"When I saw that our Canadian neighbors to the north thought so much of the president, I went to bed that night and cried."
But now, 50 years later, Gallus can still hear the roar of the crowd in his head, can still feel the thickness of JFK's hand on his and still calls it one of the biggest highlights of his life.
The History Museum in Great Falls was screening a video from his Kennedy's visit on Thursday night at 7 p.m.