History will repeat itself — almost — in Hays in November to commemorate the 60th anniversary of a visit by a future president.
On Nov. 20, 1959, Hays was the final stop of a five-city tour of then-Sen. John F. Kennedy as he courted Kansas delegates as part of his presidential campaign strategy.
About 30 people — some who were actually at the 1959 event — heard about Kennedy’s trip Tuesday evening at the Hays Public Library.
Randy Gonzales gave a presentation on Kennedy’s visit as part of the library’s Everything Kansas series. Gonzales, a former Hays Daily News reporter and editor, recently completed his master’s thesis in history on how Kennedy’s Kansas visit fit with his campaign strategy.
While researching his thesis, Gonzales said, he mentioned the anniversary to Henry Schwaller, chairman of the Ellis County Democratic Party, and asked if something should be done to commemorate the event. Schwaller was on board with the idea quickly, Gonzales said.
“The Ellis County Democratic Party is going to attempt to recreate the events of that day,” Gonzales said.
The highlight will be a banquet at the former Kennedy Middle School. In 1959, it was Jefferson West. As then, the anniversary banquet meal will be chicken fried steak and apple pie “a la Democrat” — with a slice of cheddar cheese in the shape of a donkey.
The day will also feature a guest speaker.
“We have someone we are considering. We haven’t made any definitive plans. Someone you would recognize,” Gonzales said, adding that will be announced at a later date along with ticket sales.
During his visit, Kennedy sat down at the KAYS studios for a live television interview, conducted a press conference at the Fort Hays State University Memorial Union and rode in a parade up Main Street.
“We’re going to have a press conference at the union. We’re going to have a couple extra things that he didn’t do. We’re going to have a panel to discuss what Kennedy’s time in Hays meant historically,” Gonzales said.
A plaque will also be placed at the location in the union where Kennedy had his press conference, Gonzales said.
The university’s Forsyth Library will also feature an exhibit on Kennedy and Norbert Dreiling, the local Democratic Party leader who organized Kennedy’s visit to Hays. The display will include photographs and a transcript of the speech Kennedy gave that night.
“We’re also going to try and have that darn parade. It might be snowing, but we’re going to have the parade,” he said.
During his presentation, Gonzales noted Kennedy’s parade was different from most Hays parades, running from south to north up Main Street, ending near the location of the banquet.