Resurrecting a forgotten event: The day JFK visited SME

John F. Kennedy made his appearance at SM East a day after his fourth and final televised debate against Richard Nixon.
John F. Kennedy made his appearance at SM East a day after his fourth and final televised debate against Richard Nixon.

On Oct. 22, 1960 — just a day after his fourth and final nationally televised debate against Richard Nixon — John F. Kennedy, Jr., made a whirlwind day trip through Kansas and Missouri.

He stopped in Wichita and Grandview before attending a large rally at Municipal Auditorium where he appeared with former president Harry Truman. And after that rally was over, Kennedy made one last stop: Shawnee Mission East High School.

Appearing with Mission’s then-mayor Sylvester Powell, Jr., Kennedy addressed a lunchroom full of supporters. The 13-minute speech he delivered (transcript available via the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum) doesn’t include any of the historic lines or policy proposals that have become part of Kennedy’s legacy, but it does offer a glimpse into the endgame of one of the most famous races in U.S. presidential history.

And come Nov. 16, northeast Johnson County residents will have a chance to re-live the experience for themselves.

As part of an effort to commemorate Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, members of the Johnson County Democratic Party are staging a recreation of Kennedy’s visit to SM East in a week and a half. Actors and local political leaders will assume the roles of the dignitaries who attended the event, with actor Peter Leondedis playing the role of Kennedy and recreating his speech in its entirety.

The event will also feature a panel discussion of featuring some of the attendees of the original event as well as display of photos taken at the event.

The event will run 6 to 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public. No tickets are required.