City of Lake Charles to hold panel on JFK’s 1959 Lake Charles visit

Published: Jan. 30, 2020 at 10:48 PM CST
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Before he announced his candidacy for president, then-Senator John F Kennedy made a two day visit to Louisiana in 1959. The tour ended at the Pioneer Club in Lake Charles.

“Right now, we are on the tenth floor of City Hall and some people may not know that this was originally the Pioneer Building," Mayor Nic Hunter said. “The tenth floor was the Pioneer Club. So the floor we are standing on is where JFK and Jackie had a dinner hosted in their honor in 1959. ”We have an exhibit at 1911 on JFK and thought it would be wonderful to have a discussion panel with some memories and anecdotes from that evening. I remember hearing about that evening and how exciting it was. What a wonderful event it was to have then-Senator Kennedy visit Lake Charles.”

“They were all dressed up that night," said Jane Rouyer Alcock. Her parents attended the event. “Dad had a tux and whatnot. Jackie’s dress was red, my mother’s dress was black. If you note, both had their pearls on. After their visit, JFK was very prompt in sending a thank you letter to my dad. Thanking him for all the work the committee members had done. Then at Christmas time, they received a Christmas card from them.”

Alcock will serve as one of the panelists on Feb. 17 discussing JFK’s visit to the city, coinciding with a JFK exhibit open now at the Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center.

Another panelist: retired Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jack Watson, the last living member of the 1959 planning committee.

“My responsibility was very strong," Watson said. "They told me to get an American flag to put up on the wall. I marched down to Mullers, which was still open at that time and I’m trying to remember who paid for the American flag. I know I think I paid for it because I was a struggling young lawyer and I know we had a few bankers on the committee and you couldn’t shake those guys to buy a flag, so I really don’t know. It was a pretty good-sized flag. We had it tacked up in the room we had dinner in.”

He says the flag cost around $2.25.

“It was exciting,” Watson said. “It was through many people’s efforts that the Kennedy’s came to Crowley, Lafayette, and Lake Charles. We were all very proud they came to Lake Charles. ”

80 days after his Louisiana visit, JFK announced he was running for President of the United States of America, with many saying his trip to the Bayou State may have helped him win that election.

“During the 50s it was still a big deal that JFK was a Catholic and a lot of people were not sure if a Catholic could be elected President at the time,” Mayor Hunter said. Hunter was a history major in college. “So his visit to Louisiana was a very welcoming one. There are a lot of Catholic and Protestant influences in South Louisiana. When he came through Crowley, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and then Lake Charles, he was greeted with such excitement and the people just really loved him. It really helped propel him to become President. The tour that he did around the country and those stops here in South Louisiana were really vital for his campaign.”

The JFK Panel discussion centered on then-Senator Kennedy’s 1959 visit to Lake Charles, will take place at Historic City Hall on Monday, February 17, President’s Day, at 6 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.

The American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times exhibit will be at the Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center until March 28.

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