Joyce Hailicka of Butte Falls started collecting memorabilia of John F. Kennedy and his family on the day in 1963 when the 35th president was assassinated. Now, she resolved, it's time to rent a gallery and honor him on the 50th anniversary of his death.
A stroll through the shrine brings it all back in a deeply emotional way — scores of framed photos, old newspapers, enlarged Life and Look magazine covers, a big bust of Kennedy, a room made up like the president's office, with cigars, globe, nautical compass and rocker. When you walk by the bust, recordings from his inaugural play, and Hailicka is there to explain it all.
Dominating the exhibit are life-size replicas of the official White House paintings of JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy, which, Hailicka says, "cost a fortune."
The display, she notes, "is more Camelot-ish than political."
The few quotes on the wall are simple, offer inspiration about peace and a positive society, but say little about the upheavals of the day — Vietnam, civil rights and the Cuban missile crisis.
The assassination in Dallas is not mentioned at all, but it's the main topic of discussion among viewers.
A dozen seniors came in and every person painfully recalled where they were at 12:30 p.m, on that Friday, Nov. 22, a half-century ago.
"I was in junior high. The PA said he was shot. They let us go. It was eerie. No one spoke. You could hear a pin drop in the hall," says group leader Lynda Fetrow, who saw both JFK and Robert Kennedy pass through Medford on campaign trains. "It was devastating."
"I was in Seattle, feeding my baby," says Vicki DeLeon. "It was the most awful thing ever. Everyone was mortally upset, just sick. Everyone was crying, so incredibly sad, such an awful thing for the country. No one left the TV all week. People were just stricken."
Hailicka was between classes at her high school in Riverside, Calif., when loudspeakers on the quad announced the president had been shot. In half an hour, they blared that Kennedy was dead.
"Everyone stopped. We didn't talk to each other. People sat on the lawn and were holding on to the grass. The teacher was crying," Hailicka says. "It was like the world ended, like there was no future."
Except for old newspapers and magazines, little of the display has historical value, but Hailicka did buy a JFK rocking chair replica at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston — and a replica bronze bust at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, site of the so-called "sniper's nest."
Of local note is a framed photo of JFK riding in a limo past Hawthorne Park in Medford, campaigning for president as grand marshal of the Pear Blossom parade in April 1960.
In youth, Hailicka wanted to enter the Peace Corps, a Kennedy invention, and was offered an internship with Sen. Ted Kennedy. But her father forbade it, she says.
This spurred her desire to answer JFK's inaugural challenge — to "ask what you can do for your country," says friend Roger Fishman of Eagle Point.
"She decided to do this for her country, so it's not just talk," says Fishman. "Kennedy brought the country together and provided leadership at a time when we all had a lot of questions and there was social unrest. He was a truly courageous person. Joyce took on this financial burden and offered it free to the public. You don't find dedication like that very often."
On viewing the tribute collection, Grants Pass resident Sharon Bostwick-Moore, a former Peace Corps volunteer, says, "I get overwhelmed again and again. It gives me chicken skin. It's an incredible collection. I didn't expect the depth in this exhibit. It brings back so many memories."
She was living in Portland and had just turned off the vacuum cleaner when she heard the news, she notes.
"It's the one historic event everyone remembers, no matter what your political orientation. It's like the air went out of everything. Young people need to come and see this. It's for posterity. They need to see what he was saying about war. You can't argue with that, wanting peace."
The exhibit has a small corner for the Kennedy kids, Caroline and John-John, and a spot honoring the Beatles and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the soldiers who were soon flooding into Vietnam.
Pick up an old 1950s telephone and you will hear an actual conversation between Kennedy and former President Dwight Eisenhower, as JFK relates that instead of a nuclear war, everything is now under control and missiles will be leaving Cuba.
Hailicka, who has won many awards for volunteer community service in Butte Falls, created the exhibit with her own money and is paying rent on the gallery space from May 29 — JFK's 96th birthday — until the 50th anniversary of his death on Nov. 22.
The display is free and open to the public. It's located between Oz Fitness and Ashley Furniture at Medford Center. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
This story has been updated with details about when the exhibit is open.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.