It didn’t have anything to do with ideology, political persuasions, or party platforms. I would have known precious little about any of that. Still reeling from the JFK assassination, this election pitted the formidable ticket of Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) and Hubert Horatio Humphrey (HHH) for the Democrats versus the Conservative from Arizona, Barry Goldwater (AUH2O) and an unknown, William Miller on the Republican side. The bumper stickers were everywhere, including in my desk at school (hey, they were free!) – the dark green “LBJ/HHH” and the red, white and blue “AUH20”.
For me though, it was just a matter of a 12 year old boy who got the chance to get out of school for a few hours to become part of the election campaign hoopla that had come to my little city of Zion. In the end, I got to shake hands with the governor of the State of Illinois! His name was Otto J. Kerner. He was somewhat famous back in those days, and he became rather infamous before his political career came to an end.
The Zion-Benton News reported the events of the day, as you would expect, and the story in the paper included the picture you see below. No, I was not in the picture, but I was there, believe me. I will never forget it.
I wasn’t in the picture, but you might recognize one man who was. That’s right, that my Uncle Ernie Dolan “smack dab” in the middle of the picture. It doesn’t surprise me to see him there. It was like him to be in the thick of such a major local event. That’s Governor Kerner, front right shaking hands with Zion’s Mayor Bruce Dunbar (who also ran the local Ben Franklin store on the corner of 27th and Sheridan Road.) The woman peeking out between the two was Mrs. Berg, also a member of our church, a sweet lady. That’s her husband you can see over the governor’s shoulder, wearing the hat. I also remember the big, bald-headed man in the back left. I just can’t remember his name. (David? Kathy?) Uncle Ernie knew him, in fact, he was one of the guys that went to a Cubs game with us on one of those occasions when my uncle took me to Wrigley Field. This picture was taken at the Democratic headquarters set up in Zion for the election. It was located in one of the buildings on the east side of Sheridan Road just north of 27th Street.
But none of that explains what I was doing there. So, here’s the scoop. One of my buddies from school and church was Donny Rawhoof. His Dad was Gene Rawhoof, who was one of the “big-wigs” of the local Democratic Party. If that name sounds at all familiar, that’s because the Rawhoofs owned and lived downstairs in the big house on Edina Blvd, where Mom and Dad lived upstairs years later. Anyway, Mr. Rawhoof arranged to have his son, Don, get off school and be there to meet the governor. Donnie asked me to go along. So naturally, I went. Believe me when I tell you that this was a BIG deal.
What I remember is this. There was a lot of standing around and waiting for the governor to arrive. I saw Uncle Ernie and lots of other folks there. I even think Daddy showed up too, but I’m not sure of that detail. But finally the small motorcade arrived, the governor came into the little office and all the political hand-shaking began. At some point in those few brief moments Mr. Rawhoof (bless his heart) made sure that Donny and I got up to the front. My moment had arrived. We were introduced by name, shook hands with the Governor, who looked me right in the eye and smiled. He said something, but I don’t remember what, and then just like that it was over.
A couple of things stand out in my memory of that brief moment of glory. First, Mr. Kerner looked and acted just like a 12 year old boy would expect him to look and act. I remember his suit – one that would not have been purchased at Bruce Dunbar’s Ben Franklin store. His hand-shake was firm. He had bright, piercing eyes, and his look into mine seemed genuine, not just the mandatory, political glad-handing it was. He was shorter than I expected, but he still exuded a stature and aura befitting a state and national political figure. And he smelled good – and powerful! (Yes, I remember that.)
The other thing I remember is this. Accompanying the governor was the long-time Waukegan mayor, Robert Sabonjian, the charismatic, outspoken, controversial, and somewhat popular Democratic Party leader in Lake County. He was sometimes known as “the Mayor Daley of Waukegan” after the powerful and famous major of Chicago. He was a short, stocky man with dark, heavy eyebrows. He was a Waukegan boy about the same vintage of Dad and Uncle Ernie. In fact, they would have been acquainted, I’m sure. When we were introduced, and Mr. Rawhoof said, “this is John Dolan,” I’m sure I heard him say, somewhat as an aside, “he looks like a Dolan.”
In 1973 Otto Kerner, then a federal judge, was tried and convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy, perjury, and other charges. The prosecutor was an up-and-coming Republican who himself later became governor of Illinois, James Thompson. Kerner resigned his position on the bench, and was sentenced to three years in prison. Granted early release when it was revealed that he was suffering from cancer, he died in 1976. It is believed that the conviction was unfair, and had he lived, it likely would have been overturned.
No matter. Back in 1964 he shook my hand. As small and insignificant as it was, it was still a huge, memorable day for me.