Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 22, 2012

A civics lesson that has lasted 52 years


CNHI

— It was the fall of 1960 and the presidential campaign between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon was in full swing.

For the first time ever, the candidates debated on national television and the pollsters were saying the race was too close to call.

The Kennedy-Nixon campaign was the first to excite younger voters, particularly college students, many of whom were captivated by JFK’s concept of America’s “New Frontier” where fresh, new ideas would be applied to old problems.

Then as now, Kentucky required voters to be 18 years of age by Election Day. That was a painful obstacle in 1960 for a certain college freshman who would not be 18 until late December.

He was involved on a daily basis in political discussions with his college classmates and friends. The campaign and the candidates seemed to dominate every aspect of life.

As the weeks passed and Election Day came closer, his frustration grew. He complained of the unfairness of being forced to miss such an important election.

The young man pressed his parents to defend their personal decisions to support Nixon, whom he regarded as untrustworthy because of the “Checkers” incident in 1952 over campaign funds.

His father worked away from home and only saw his family on alternating weekends.

The father applied for an absentee ballot, intending to maintain his record of voting every time he had the opportunity. He was a proud patriot and a good citizen.

Finally, the day came for the ballot to be marked and mailed back to the county clerk. The father invited his 17-year-old son to “help” him with the ballot.

They reviewed all of the races as the father carefully marked his choices. They worked from the bottom up, stopping at the most important race, the presidency.

A spirited discussion of the issues lasted until supper and beyond. The ballot remained unmarked.

The father was leaving early the next morning to return to his job.

Before daylight, he awoke his son, asking him to finish marking the ballot and take it to the post office.

The son was tempted to mark it for Kennedy, despite his dad’s preference for Nixon. But he would be honest and mark the other name.

As the son reached for a pen, he found a note in his father’s handwriting. It said, simply:

“Mark it for JFK if it means so much to you but never fail to cast your own vote.”

Thanks, dad. I haven’t missed one in almost 52 years.

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Keith Kappes is a columnist for The Morehead (Ky.)News. Contact him at kkappes@cnhi.com.