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Memories from a Retired Teacher: November 22, 1963 - President John F. Kennedy's Assassination

I began my teaching/coaching career in September 1963 in Friona, Texas. I was hired one afternoon in mid July 1963, having just graduated from West Texas State University. Passing through Friona one July afternoon, I decided to stop by the Friona ISD offices for a visit, and it turned out to be a life changing afternoon. On that exciting afternoon, I was blessed to meet two of the finest men I’ve ever known, on a journey filled with outstanding men, Mr. Alton Farr, Superintendent of Friona Schools and Tom Jarboe, the principal of Friona Jr. High School. These two men would become great contributors to the lives of my wife, Sue and I, in the next four years, and for all these years that have come to pass. My wife was hired by Mr. Farr as one of his secretaries, and I was hired by Mr. Farr and Mr. Jarboe to teach Texas History and physical education, with promised coaching position when it became available.

When Mr. Farr told me that I would be making the beginning teaching state salary of $4,016 per year, and with the $200.00 bonus that Friona paid, I would make a total of $4,216.00, I was thrilled beyond all imagination, and surely must have jumped from his front porch to our car! Sue and I had found the end of the rainbow in Friona, Texas!

School began in those years usually the day following Labor Day. I had been twenty-two years old for just ten days when the sun rose on my first day as a teacher. What an exciting time it was in our lives. Mr. Jarboe was a fine principal, a very good man and he was the consummate professional, all of which suited me just fine. A neck tie, a professional look, professional behavior at all times, being in charge of one’s class and pride as a teacher – hey, I hung on his every word in our first teachers’ meeting. He was a role model I would continue to follow in my teaching, coaching and counseling career, including my exciting years later in life with The Texas Longhorns and The University of Texas at Austin, where I eventually retired following a thirty-five year career in education.

Although I have so many good memories from my first year of teaching, the most memorable day for me, and in all probability, of the twenty-eight young seventh graders in my fourth period Texas History class, occurred shortly after noon on November 22. My wife, Sue, came to my classroom door and called me out into the hallway. She told me President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, and that it was a very bad situation. I was totally taken back by her words and after a quick word to the kids in my class that I would be “right back”, I went straight to Mr. Jarboe’s office. He was totally shocked, as I was, and he immediately turned on the radio. The news was very bad and I’m sure it was the beginning of one of the most challenging days of his career as a principal. In a few minutes, he called all of the teachers to his office and he told everyone the news. Shortly after, Walter Cronkite made his unbelievable announcement to all of America. We were all stunned, of course, and didn’t quite know what to do next.

Mr. Jarboe told us to return to our rooms, tell our students to fold up their books, work, etc. He told us that we were to tell our students the news of the assassination, and of the death of President Kennedy. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking as I walked back to my classroom, but I’m sure I was shaking all over, knowing what I was about to tell a room full of twelve and thirteen year old kids. I’m sure as they looked at me standing before them, they must have seen me shaking and very unsteady. After all, I was only ten years older than they were on that cruel afternoon. As I told them the news, all were shocked. Several of them laid their heads down on their desks, and I remember one female student, someone I’ve never forgotten, just burst out in tears. It was a very emotional few moments for all of us and we were all put to the test of handling a situation that no one would even dare to think could happen in our nation. Mr. Jarboe then turned on the school radio for all of us to listen to the afternoon’s continuing news. As I think back to that day, I remember saying years later to a group of teachers; I started that day twenty-two years old and finished that day five years older.

Though it will soon be fifty years since that terrible day, I’ve never forgotten the emotions of that afternoon, the positive actions of Mr. Jarboe, nor have I ever forgotten the kids in my classroom in fourth period that day. I can still call most of their names and remember the emotions we all shared and the terrible event that has linked us together throughout our lives. I know many of them share these same memories.

If any of these former students still live in Friona, or keep in touch with friends in Friona, I would be thrilled to hear from them. My wife, Sue and I, have lived in Georgetown, Texas for almost forty years now and we are both retired, travel a lot and enjoy four young grandchildren and their three dogs.

My mailing address is:

Coach Joe Eivens

1613 Cottonwood Dr.

Georgetown, Texas 78625

My e-mail address is: joesueiv@msn.com