Skip to main content

Despite the proof, I am not ready for AARP

Numismatic News editor relates how the JFK assassination cemented his interested in numismatics.

I mailed my AARP dues in this week. That probably is a task familiar to millions of Americans, but to me it is a shock. Being 50 just doesn’t seem possible. Joining the American Association of Retired Persons seems like it should somehow be far in the future, but it isn’t. It is now, even though I am still working. There is even a box right on the form to declare that I still work full time.


My lack of readiness for AARP doesn’t change the facts of my age. Nothing drives this home more at this time than looking at the cover date, Nov. 22.

You need gray hair to realize what it is. That is a date from 42 years ago that is burned in my memory like this generation’s 9/11. It was the day President John F. Kennedy was shot.

That event was a true shock. It wasn’t the shock of vanity about turning 50. It was a shock in a very grave sense of the word. It was a national shock. Even to an 8-year-old child, the idea of the President of the United States being vulnerable in his own country demanded my notice. I knew what death was because my grandfather had died the year before. He was old. The President was young. It wasn’t right.

My parents and other adults certainly understood the gravity of the event more than I did. My third-grade view of life was filled with toys, outside games, cartoons, family gatherings and the things that occupy a third-grader’s time.

Others of my age and older will find that we are historically pigeonholed by the memory. But more than that, we were all affected. I would like to think some good comes from all tragedies. In my case, the terrible events in Dallas in 1963 helped to cement my interest in numismatics.

I already was a collector. I had a set of Lincoln cents going. I had a concept of history, however childish it might have been. The memory of the common event put me at one with all other Americans of the time.

Longtime collectors know that after Kennedy’s death there was a crash program to get a suitable numismatic memorial made. Legislation was introduced and passed in the Congress in record time and work was already under way at the Mint well before the year ended.

I didn’t know any of this. I wasn’t a hobby reader yet. But it would have been impossible to miss all of the Kennedy memorial souvenirs. When word finally got down to my level, it was about the coming release of the Kennedy half dollar. The coin was released in March 1964 and it got to my town not long after. It could have been the same day for all I know. It definitely was jacket weather. I was in New Ulm, Minn., at the time.

A smart marketer at a local bank advertised the new half. Did my parents see it and tell me? Was it on the radio? I don’t remember. What I do remember is I knew the half was coming. I needed to have one. It was the most important numismatic desire I had. My mother knew this also and taught me about deals.

The smart bank offered the deal. Kennedy halves were limited two to a customer. However, if you traded 90 cents in change, you would be given two halves, a 10-cent profit. That’s incentive. That’s marketing.

The kicker from my mother was if I would go get the two halves, she would give me the 90 cents if I gave one coin to my younger brother. Well, those were pretty good wages for an 8-year-old in 1963, but all I knew was I wanted the coin. I took the deal.

I remember the long line. I remember the wait. But more than that, I remember getting the coins. Not only was it historic, but it was historic in a way that I had personally experienced. Americans may not act like we are always in things together, but in that event and in that time, that’s just what we were doing. We were in it together. I could see all the other people in that line. They were all probably thinking something similar to what I was.

The coin represented a shared moment in time. It was something to hang on to. I did. I still have the half. It isn’t MS-65, but that’s not the point.