‘Kennedy house’ memorializes 1959 JFK visit

Photos by Candy Neal/The Herald
The "Kennedy house," as owner Judy Rohleder likes to call it, sits at 312 E. Fifth St. in Huntingburg. John F. Kennedy visited the home as a senator in 1959.


HUNTINGBURG — As people remember President John F. Kennedy today on the 56th anniversary of his passing, Dubois County can say it shares a little bit of Kennedy’s history.

That’s because Kennedy visited Dubois County once, months before he became president.

In fact, he stayed overnight in a Huntingburg home that still stands today.

Kennedy posed for a photo on the stairs of the home.

The house is at 312 E. Fifth St. House owner Judy Rohleder has nicknamed it “the Kennedy house.”

“That is an amazing piece of history,” she said. “And I didn’t even know it. I bought the house because I thought it was cute.”

Kennedy, who was a senator when he visited on Oct. 4, 1959, was running for president at the time, and came to the county by invitation.

The late Gordon St. Angelo of Huntingburg, who lived in the East Fifth Street home with his wife, Beattie, and children, was district chairman of the Dubois County Democratic Party at the time, and orchestrated the visit. Through his connections with the national party, he invited Kennedy to visit, and Kennedy accepted.

A bust of Kennedy sits on the mantel in the home.

“It wasn’t hard at all to get him [to agree to come] there,” St. Angelo told The Herald in 2007. “Indiana was going to be a hard sell for Kennedy. So it made sense for him to come and campaign.”

Kennedy attended a couple of events during his stay in Dubois County. There was a circus-themed event the Democrats set up in Huntingburg on the land that eventually became Maple Park School; Kennedy spoke under a big tent. He also attended a reception at the American Legion in Jasper.

Kennedy stopped at St. Angelo’s home between the events to bathe, eat and relax. And St. Angelo recalled an interesting encounter his wife had with the future president.

“My wife was taking a tray of food to him in his room. He told her to come on in, and when she did, there was Mr. Kennedy, standing in his shorts,” St. Angelo said. “He had just finished his bath. Oh, Beattie was so embarrassed. She set the tray on the dresser and almost ran out of the room.”

Kennedy stayed overnight with the St. Angelos and inadvertently left them an unexpected gift: a pair of his boxer shorts.

A photo of Kennedy posing on the stairs of the home in 1959 is framed next to the stairs today. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960, becoming the youngest person, at age 43, to be elected as U.S. President. He was assassinated on this day in 1963 in Dallas, Texas. He was 46.

“It has the watermark [of Kennedy’s initials] on it, and the name of the store they were purchased from,” St. Angelo told The Herald. Kennedy never called to retrieve them. And the last known location of the shorts, back in 2007, was with St. Angelo’s children.

Kennedy won the presidency in 1960, becoming the youngest person, at age 43, to be elected as U.S. President. He was assassinated on this day in 1963 in Dallas, Texas. He was 46.

St. Angelo and his family moved to Indianapolis in 1964, where he lived the rest of his life. He died in October 2011; Beattie passed in February 2007.

Rohleder, who owns Greentree store on Fourth Street, bought the house this past spring. But she had no idea it had seen a famous visitor. She found out that detail while attending a funeral this summer.

“I sat next to a woman from Ohio who used to live here,” Rohleder said. “The woman said that she used to babysit in that house, and that John F. Kennedy was there.”

The woman sent Rohleder a copy of the photo of Kennedy standing on the stairs in the house, which was taken by St. Angelo and is included in Hugo Songer’s book, “The History of Huntingburg.” Rohleder has made copies of the picture and has placed one on the mantel in the house and one on the wall near the stairs. She also has a bust of Kennedy sitting on the mantel.

“I feel very fortunate to have this house,” Rohleder said. “It’s a beautiful house. And it needs to be well taken care of.”

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