Special to capecodtoday Text & Photos by Jack Coleman
HYANNIS - Efforts to raise money for a life-sized bronze statue of President John F. Kennedy, to be unveiled next May on what would have been his 89th birthday, got a huge boost last night.
The fund-raiser reception at Grille 16 at the Asa Bearse House drew 150 people and helped organizers get one-quarter of the way toward their goal of $125,000 to $150,000.
The statue will be sculpted by renowned Osterville artist David Lewis, whose statues of Revolutionary War-era patriots James Otis Jr. and Mercy Otis Warren stand sentinel in front of Barnstable Superior Court, while his bronze rendition of Mattakeese sachem Iyanough graces the entrance to the Hyannis town green.
So many anecdotes and memories of Kennedy were recounted last night, something very much like the indelible spirit of the man was present in the room.
Living on the Cape in the early 1960s, while Kennedy was president, "we had wit, we had charm, we had glamour, we had youth, we had all of those things in the White House," said master of ceremonies and radio talk show host Don McKeag. "And he was one of our own."
"To those of us in our 20s, the world was our oyster," McKeag said.
Lewis said he was flooded with memories as he gathered dozens of examples of his sculptures, busts and sketches on display at last night's event.
"I was 22 and I used to watch those helicopters going across, going to the 'port and then back to Craigville Beach," said Lewis, referring to JFK's frequent visits to his summer home in Hyannisport. "There were always three of them."
Lewis recited one of his favorite quotes from Kennedy - "I always go to Hyannisport to be revived, to know again the power of the sea, and the Master who rules over it, and all of us."
First bid of $800 ended up doubled
A silent auction was held for a bronze bust of Kennedy by Lewis, placed on a table in front of Lewis' sketching of what the life-sized bronze statue will look like in front of the John F. Kennedy Museum on Main Street in Hyannis.
Stephen Peckham of Nantucket put in the first bid on the bust, for $800. Peckham is the irreverent donor who contributed $2,500 toward Lewis' statue of Iyanough and had a donor brick inscribed, "In memory of Frank Zappa and his music." A friend of his daughter would later see the brick and say, how about that, Frank Zappa donated money for the statue.
The silent auction for the bust ended with a donation of $1,600 from Centerville attorney Don Weber, who described Lewis as "a phenomenally gifted sculptor."
"I always say that David is a plumber by trade, but a tremendously dedicated, talented artist at heart," McKeag said.
Original design met with resistence from some
Members of the statue committee originally planned for dual statues of Kennedy and his son, John F. Kennedy Jr., to be placed on town-owned land overlooking Hyannis Inner Harbor at the corner of Barnstable Road and South Street.
But the proposal set off a furor in the summer of 2000 when Lewis' sketch for the statues depicted the two men as adults, a scenario their premature deaths never allowed.
Lewis wanted to show Kennedy and his son as both appeared when Kennedy was president. But the Kennedy family rejected the idea and wanted John Kennedy Jr. to be shown as a grown man and not as a toddler.
In the wake of the controversy, the committee and Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce decided to temporarily shelve the proposal in September 2000.
"We've had a lot of support, but unfortunately we've also had certain people for whom if doesn't matter what the purpose is, they will make it political and make it anti-Kennedy family, no matter what the value of the project is," said McKeag, a former resident of Hyannisport who counts Ted Kennedy among his friends.
New design met with universal approval
The proposal was revisited last year when committee members decided to proceed with one statue, of JFK, to be placed in front of the John F. Kennedy Museum. The Barnstable Town Council has approved use of the site, on property owned by the town.
"We should have had this a long time ago," said Barnstable village resident Joe Dugas. "This was his home, really."
Dugas and developer Stu Bornstein donated $10,000 for the statue and will receive a marquette, a small model of the statue to be sculpted by Lewis.
"We should have had this a long time ago. This was his home, really." -Joe Dugas
The two men are planning to have the marquette brought to local schools to help students learn more about Kennedy and the times in which he lived.
Sheriffs Association donates $5,000
Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings presented a check for $5,000 from the Barnstable County Deputy Sheriffs Association. "In the past, some of my, ah, clients have helped David" with work on the grounds where his statues were placed, Cummings quipped, alluding to inmates at the country jail on work details.
Statue committee chairman Lou Cataldo, who has helped Lewis with several projects, said the group hopes to finish raising money for the project "by the end of the year." Cataldo said he will never forget receiving a congratulatory telegram from President Kennedy after graduating from the FBI national academy in 1963.
The statue to honor Kennedy is important "for the heritage that was left here by a president of the United States," Cataldo said.
Sculpting the statue of Kennedy "something I'm really looking forward to doing," Lewis said. "This is going to be the finest statue of President Kennedy in the country when I'm done."
Only one other public statue of our 35th President
It will also be just the second statue of Kennedy displayed publicly. The other stands outside the State House in Boston.
The statue committee recently chose former Barnstable town councilor Leonard Gobeil as general fundraising chairman and committee member Spyro Mitrokostas asked the Dennis website design company, eCape.com, to create a website for the fundraising drive at JFKstatue.org which they did pro bono.
Still, challenges remain. "There are a lot of non-profits on the Cape but only so many dollars to go around," Gobeil said.
In his remarks last night, the first person Lewis thanked was his wife, Nancy.
"Nancy is the stalwart, the stay of the whole thing," Lewis said. "Without her support, for this," Lewis said, motioning toward examples of his sculptures, busts and sketches, "none of this would happen."
Earlier, all four of David and Nancy Lewis's grown children - Amy Peacock and David Lewis, both of Osterville; Wendy Beckett of Providence and Jody Sherman of Marstons Mills, stood behind ink sketches of them as children by their father while friends snapped photos.
Also attending were Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe, Barnstable County Commissioner Mary LeClair, State Rep. Demetrius Atsalis of West Hyannisport and former State Rep. Thomas George of Yarmouth and his wife, Republican activist Alice George.
Sponsors for last night's event included former Boston Bruins great Derek Sanderson and Grille 16 owner Rick Angelini. Music was provided by the Alan Clinger Trio with Paul Nossiter and Rod McCaulley.