The John F. Kennedy Memorial recognizes the place where the young Senator announced his intention to enter the West Virginia primary as a Democratic Presidential candidate in 1960. Winning the West Virginia primary helped Kennedy secure the Democratic nomination and become elected President later that year. Local statesman Michael A. Oliverio Sr. wanted to honor Kennedy as well as the love and dedication of fathers everywhere. “A Father’s Love,” featuring a bas-relief of Kennedy and a statue of John-John, was dedicated in Star City on June 17th, 2007. The memorial is located in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park along the waterfront and Rail Trail.
“I shall run in the West Virginia Presidential Primary. Frankly, I did not originally intend to do so.” John F. Kennedy, Feburary 4, 1960
John F. Kennedy, then a senator from Massachusetts, had a number of challenges facing him on his path to President of the United States. He was young and a Catholic, both of which caused doubts among some voters. On January 2, 1960, Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, which would take place at the Democratic National Convention that summer. Winning West Virginia in the Democratic primary would be essential to securing the nomination.
By the mid-twentieth century, West Virginia struggled with poverty and a declining economy. Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, after narrowly losing the Wisconsin primary, challenged Senator Kennedy in West Virginia. On February 4, 1960, in Star City, West Virginia, Senator Kennedy announced his intention to run in the West Virginia primary on May 10. Kennedy initially led Humphrey in West Virginia polls, but it became clear that Kennedy’s Catholic faith was a major deterrent for the mostly Protestant state of West Virginia.
Kennedy was only the second presidential nominee to be Catholic (the first was Governor Al Smith of New York in the 1920s), and he would become the first Catholic President upon his election. Anti-Catholic attitudes have been pervasive in American history, often spiking with waves of immigration. In the 1960 election, some non-Catholic voters feared that Kennedy would prioritize loyalty to the Pope over the Constitution. Kennedy, however, affirmed the separation of church and state and argued that his personal beliefs would not interfere with his policies or leadership. Throughout the spring of 1960, Kennedy campaigned throughout West Virginia, seeking to understand the struggles of Appalachia and earn the trust of voters.
Kennedy won the West Virginia primary on May 10, ushering him toward the Democratic nomination on July 13, 1960, in Los Angeles. He faced Republican candidate Richard Nixon in a tight race. In November, Kennedy won the presidency by a margin of only 118,000 votes of 69 million; he won West Virginia with 52.7% of the vote. While President, Kennedy focused on topics such as the escalating Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Space Race. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. In a decade of social and political turmoil, Kennedy’s death sent shockwaves around the world.
Efforts to memorialize Kennedy began almost immediately, with his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery attracting mourners in the thousands and the Dallas memorial opening in 1970. In Morgantown, Michael A Oliverio Sr., a statesman and the Monongalia County Clerk, spearheaded the effort to establish a Kennedy memorial. In the 1980s, Oliverio got a nudge from Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill to honor Kennedy’s place in West Virginia history. In the 1990s and 2000s, Oliverio had opportunities to present the idea to Kerry Kennedy Cuomo (Robert Kennedy’s daughter) and Senator Ted Kennedy (John F. Kennedy’s brother), who both gave their blessings.
Oliverio, a family man whose work focused on rehabilitation and disability advocacy, envisioned a memorial that drew attention to both Kennedy and the concept of fatherhood. Chris Kroll, a senior product designer for Matthews International Corp., took Oliverio’s concepts and created the memorial. The memorial features a sign describing the significance of Star City in Kennedy’s path to the presidency. The memorial features a bas-relief of Kennedy and a statue of his son, John John, depicted saluting his father as he did at the funeral in 1963. Lastly, the names of donors’ fathers are commemorated on plaques on either side of Kennedy.
“A Father’s Love” was dedicated on June 17, 2007 (Father’s Day). It is located along the Star City waterfront where there is a playground for children and a “little free library,” a public book exchange program.