Lawrence man served as an altar boy at JFK’s funeral

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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- President John F. Kennedy's funeral took places 50 years ago, just days after he was assassinated in Dallas, and a metro man remembers it as if it just happened yesterday.

Reaumur Donnally, Jr. served as an altar boy 50 years ago at JFK's funeral.

"I was only a 12-year-old boy. I didn't understand a lot of things, but I could really feel the love and the dignity and the reverence for what was taking place and it was quite memorable," he said,

Donnally likes to think he earned the honor on his own merit.

"I was one of 60 altar boys and as one of the senior altar boys I was president of the Altar Society," he said.

However, Donnally added his father, Dr. Reaumur Starnes Donnally, may have had a little something to do with it.

"He got to know JFK when they were friends at Harvard University and when JFK was elected to Congress he asked my dad to take care of him medically and treat him and he also treated the First Lady, Jackie," said Donnally.

Donnally said although it was half a century ago, he still recalls every detail about the scene at St. Matthew's Church in Washington, D.C.

"I remember looking out as I was coming down the steps and seeing so many people," he said. "They were just lining the streets, hanging from the trees, out the windows and I thought to myself 'My gosh, this is a lot of people. I hope they all get a seat.'"

Donnally said several among the sea of faces inside the church really stood out and made him realize exactly how important this particular mass was.

"I remember President Johnson and President Eisenhower and so many of the world's leaders, and Peter Lawford because he was a Hollywood actor," he listed. "It was interesting the last person in church was Martin Luther King, Jr. He just came running up the steps at the last-minute. I remember that very well."

And how could he forget the faces of Jackie Kennedy and her two young children, faces he'd seen regularly at his father's office, which was on the first floor of his family's home.

"I remember seeing my dad after the news of JFK's assassination actually in his chair crying. That's the only time I ever saw my dad cry my whole life so I know it hit him deeply," said Donnally.

Walking into the church 50 years ago as an altar boy, Donnally said he'll never forget what the Cardinal's instructions for an event that felt like the whole world was watching.

"Welcome boys, we've got a big job today to do. So let's do it well," he said.

Donnally, now 62 years old, moved to Lawrence from Washington D.C. in the 1990s as a vice president of the department store Kohl's. He has since retired.

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