HIGHLAND | Theresa Pecsek was only 2 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but she developed an unusual connection to this watershed moment in U.S. history.
It might have started when she met Robert Kennedy on May 6, 1968, near St. Michael Church in Hammond. Robert Kennedy was campaigning for president and visited the area on the eve of the state primary election.
"He held me in his arms as he walked in the street on the way to make a speech," Pecsek said. "If someone has a picture of him with a girl in his arms, that should be me."
Pecsek graduated from Highland High School and got a master's degree in math at Purdue University Calumet and embarked on a career as a math tutor. The next chapter in her Kennedy connection came two years ago at a church rummage sale.
It was the last day of the sale and about 10 minutes before they closed when she went in and found a manila folder in a cardboard box with several books on knitting and crocheting.
The folder was duct-taped shut and had "Kennedy assassination newspaper clippings" scrawled on it along with the name "Linda" (The last name is scratched out). The salesperson let her have it for a quarter, and Pecsek took it home, put it in a Hefty bag and stashed it on a ledge in her basement.
"I was afraid to open it because there might be bugs in it," she said.
She finally opened it earlier this year and was surprised by her find, which included many front pages from The Hammond Times. But a bigger surprise lay ahead.
While cleaning out her garage this summer, she came across another Hefty bag filled with whole sections of old newspapers, mostly The Hammond Times, all dealing with the assassination and the days following it. Her parents apparently had saved them.
"Looking at it was so moving for me. I never looked at it when I was younger, so this was the first time looking at it and reading it," Pecsek said.
When she realized it was the 50th anniversary, she asked Bob Mele, head of the Highland branch of the Lake County Public Library, if she could display the newspaper items along with other material put out at the time to commemorate the tragedy. Mele said no anniversary display had been planned, but Pecsek's offer seemed appropriate.
"Putting the display up was emotional and I got tears in my eyes," Pecsek said. "The poor guy never got to see his kids grow up, and what was it like for them growing up?"
The collection is on display at the library through the end of the month.