With the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death this November, Richard Pogvara was among the many young people growing up in the 1960s inspired by the charismatic 35th President.
Kennedy advocated physical fitness and made it a priority of his administration. He discovered a Theodore Roosevelt executive order from 1908 challenging that all Marines should be able to cover 50 miles in 20 hours.
However, Robert Kennedy, the President’s brother and Attorney General, beat the military to the punch. In February of 1963, he walked 50 miles from Great Falls, Maryland to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on the C&O Canal towpath along the Potomac River. The “Kennedy Challenge” led to a flourish of 50-mile hikes around the nation, including one at Morton College.
Exactly a month to the day of Bobby Kennedy’s feat, freshmen Jerry Cermak and Bob Kouba organized a 50-mile walk for any willing Morton College student.
Pogvara was game and decided to participate. It was a Saturday - March 9, 1963 – when a group of 15 men and three women from Morton College departed the parking lot at Morton East High School at 5 o’clock in the morning.
“I really didn’t train for the walk,” Pogvara said. “I was always very active and just went and did it.”
The route went north on Austin Boulevard and then west on Roosevelt Road through the communities of Cicero, Berwyn, Forest Park, Broadview, Westchester, Hillside, Oak Brook, Elmhurst, Villa Park, Lombard and Glen Ellyn with the turn-around point three miles west of Wheaton. Pogvara wore a light jacket and carried a backpack with water and sandwiches.
“It just was a challenge to myself to see if I could do it,” said Pogvara, who spent 46 years in the banking industry before retiring. “I completed 43 miles. We made the turn after 25 miles and we hit 43 miles when I had to stop. I sat down and I couldn’t get up. My legs just froze up underneath me. I had to give a guy a dime so he could call my dad and come get me.”
For Pogvara, who grew up in Cicero’s Hawthorne neighborhood and attended St. Mary of Czestochowa Catholic Church, seeing Kennedy elected as the first Catholic President was an important milestone.
“Kennedy was a great, great President,” said the La Grange Park resident. “It was the Camelot family, being the first Catholic President, the charisma with him and Bobby (his brother, Robert), the civil rights movement. All things good and stuff I believed in.”
This November 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Like when 9-11 happened in 2001, every person alive in 1963 remembers where they were when the news came that Kennedy had been shot.
“I was working at Ceco Steel (in Cicero) when the plant whistle blew,” Pogvara said. “They announced that plant was closing because the President had been assassinated. We all hustled home to watch TV. I’ll never forget that day in my life. We just couldn’t believe it.”
Pogvara graduated from St. Bonaventure High School in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and spent two years in the Army, serving with the military police in Korea from July of 1965 to May of 1967.
He attended night school at Morton College and worked full-time at Suburban Trust and Savings Bank in Oak Park, where Pogvara started out as a clerk in the audit department and worked his way up to bank
president. However, Pogvara wasn’t immune to the period during the 1990s and 2000s when banks were merging left and right, but he continued as a vice president at several other community banks before deciding to recently retire.
Pogvara, who turns 70 in May of 2014, has lived in La Grange Park for over 40 years. His first wife, Diane, died six years ago, but he remarried three years ago to Linda. He has two children and three grandchildren.
“I’m enjoying retirement,” Pogvara said. “I appreciated the opportunity to relive this adventure.”