JFK: The Passing of the Torch; Spontaneous combustion ignited by a petition signed by UM students

This morning, I was reminded of my early beginnings as an advocate for nursing home patients. My first job out of college was as the Chapter Director of a local advocate organization for nursing home patients. The position was as a VISTA Volunteer–a stateside version of the Peace Corps.

I have thought many times how that role prepared me to speak up on behalf of the defenseless–victims who could not speak for themselves. It taught me to be tough and diligent and thorough. It paved the way for me to be an advocate for crash victims.

Then, I read my email and found the latest edition of the University of Michigan digital newsletter, Michigan Today, which I receive as an alumni. One particular article caught my attention: the early beginnings of the Peace Corps which took place in October 1960 at the University of Michigan. I read it with great interest.


The birth of a movement
Over the next two weeks, events moved fast. [Alan and Judy Guskin] were contacted by Samuel Hayes, the professor who had written the position paper on a youth corps for Kennedy. Together, they called a mass meeting. Some 250 students came out to sign a petition saying they would volunteer. Hundreds more signers followed within days. . .

On Sunday, Nov. 6, two days before the election, Kennedy was expected at the Toledo airport. Three carloads of U-M students, including the Guskins, drove down to show him the petitions. “He took them in his hands and started looking through the names,” Judy Guskin recalled later. “He was very interested.”

Alan asked: “Are you really serious about the Peace Corps?”

“Until Tuesday we’ll worry about this nation,” Kennedy said. “After Tuesday, the world.”

Two days later, Kennedy defeated Nixon by some 120,000 votes, one of the slimmest margins in U.S. history. Some argue the Peace Corps proposal may have swayed enough votes to make the difference.

“It might still be just an idea but for the affirmative response of those Michigan students and faculty,” wrote Sargent Shriver, JFK’s brother-in-law and the Peace Corps’ first director, in his memoir. “Possibly Kennedy would have tried it once more on some other occasion, but without a strong popular response he would have concluded the idea was impractical or premature. That probably would have ended it then and there. Instead, it was almost a case of spontaneous combustion.

I pray that our Vision Zero Petition and our truck safety advocacy efforts will likewise garner countless signatures and sway the hearts and minds of those who have the authority to make the difference in ways that will mean many saved lives for years to come.

Please sign & share our petitionhttp://www.thepetitionsite.com/417/742/234/save-lives-not-dollars-urge-dot-to-adopt-vision-zero-policy/

I was additionally intrigued by the mention of Kennedy’s campaign trip through Michigan because one of my vivid childhood memories was when he came through Grand Rapids when I was 5 on a train and went by at a spot which was a 10-minute walk from my home.

Senator John F. Kennedy’s motorcade rolled into Ann Arbor very early on the morning of Friday, Oct. 14, 1960. The election was three and a half weeks away. The Democratic nominee for president and his staff had just flown into Willow Run Airport. A few hours earlier, in New York, Kennedy had fought Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, in the third of their four nationally televised debates. The race was extremely close, and Michigan was up for grabs. Kennedy’s schedule called for a few hours of sleep, then a one-day whistle-stop train tour across the state.

My family still talks about it because his train was delayed and so we were gone from home longer than expected. My mother had put a batch of bread in the oven and it ended up being overbaked so that it had a very thick & dark crust. In the future, whenever bread got overdone, we called it “Kennedy Bread.”

Petition Photo Bags at DOT, best

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