PITTSTON — They city is ready for John F. Kennedy. All it will take is about $40,000.
That’s the sum settled on by a committee of city leaders, including the redevelopment authority, the Knights of Columbus Council 372, its women’s auxiliary, the Jacquelines and the Greater Pittston Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
Oh, and as for Kennedy himself – he will be in the form of a life-sized bronze statue that will stand along the boulevard that bears his name.
The city has a long-time love for the late president, assassinated more than 50 years ago. He campaigned in Northeastern Pennsylvania and in Pittston specifically. He was the first Catholic President, something close to the hearts of residents in the mostly-Catholic city. The Knights of Columbus Council itself, changed its name in 1965 to the John F. Kennedy Council in his honor and the council’s women’s auxiliary adopted the name of his wife, Jacqueline.
The legacy of Kennedy’s presidency is something the committee of roughly 20 members feels strongly about preserving in some form. In this case, it’s a visual reminder. P.J. Melvin, past Grand Knight of the K of C and past president of the Friendly Sons gets credit for presenting the original idea.
The statue will be dedicated to the deceased members of all three organizations and the plans are for the base to also bear quotes from Kennedy himself.
“A statue is also something that fits in with the renaissance going on in Pittston,” said committee member Brian Matyjevich. “Just look at the murals and the monuments we have. And our city is undergoing fantastic forward progress.”
In the process of getting a bronze statue, the committee had to also find a sculptor. They looked first to local sculptors then went onto the Internet for their search. They narrowed the candidates to two and eventually settled on the one they found in Utah.
Dee Jay Bawden, who now resides in Provo, Utah, has been creating bronze statues since he was a teenager during the Kennedy administration. About a decade later, he became a full-time professional sculptor. He has sculpted religious statues for Christian churches throughout the United States as well as historical figures and he now works on life-sized creations of people from all walks of life to be placed in municipalities and public areas throughout the country.
“We feel pretty comfortable that he is a good fit for what we’re looking for,” Matyjevich said.
Bawden himself spent a few hours in the city Saturday morning, getting a tour from Matyjevich and former mayor Michael Lombardo.
“I’ve always wanted to do a life-size statue of Kennedy,” Bawden said. “I did a bust of him when I was in junior high right after he was assassinated. But a full figure has always been a dream of mine.”
Bawden got a view of the two potential sites for the artwork.
One is on the corner near the U.S. Post Office. It’s land that is federally owned, but although there might be more paperwork involved in placing a statue there, it will be a statue of a former president on federal property and things should go smoothly, Matyjevich said.
The other potential site is on the property of the YMCA.
“The (redevelopment) authority owns that lot and is eager to work with us,” said Lombardo.
Now that he’s had a brief tour, Bawden will be able to give advice about the pros and cons of each location and about the kind of base that would be best for the statue. The final decision on location, though, will come from the committee.
He also got to see the artworks already in place in the downtown area and to make a visit to the Knights of Columbus Lodge where there are Kennedy artifacts.
“We understand Mr. Bawden has already made some sketches of statues for us to consider,” Lombardo said. “We’ll have a meeting of the minds to learn what he is planning. We are not going to dictate to him. He’s the artist and he knows what to do with the idea.”
Now the only thing left is to pay for the statue. That $40,000 will come solely from donations, Matyjevich said.
“They’re tax-deductible,” he said. “And all of our donors will be recognized at the dedication ceremony for the statue. We all feel it’s important for this to be truly a community project.”
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