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Massena woman shares story of her JFK portrait

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MASSENA - In late November 1963, with the country still mourning the unfathomable and tragic death of President John F. Kennedy, Ellen Manganelli began working on a painting to honor his life.

Through the entire month of that December, she worked tirelessly to perfect her portrait of the nation’s 35th leader.

Ms. Manganelli, who was living in Brooklyn at the time of Mr. Kennedy’s death, said she surprisingly had little trouble with most of the procedure.

“The hardest part was doing the emblem. Everything else was easy except that. I also included the writings of his inaugural speech. The (text) was so bright when I did it, but then the gold, after 50 years it starts to fade a little bit,” she said.

“I didn’t know how I was going to put it together, but I knew I needed the two flags and the (Catholic) flame included. ... I also included the White House, the back of the White House. They usually show you the front, but the back is where they always did a lot of entertainment of some sort. ... I just put things together and I just decided, I said, ‘I’ve got to put things that are related to him which are the (Presidential) Seal, the White House, etc.’”

Ms. Manganelli left Massena for the city in 1945 after graduating from high school. While in Brooklyn, she did office work and never worked professionally as a painter.

“I just worked in an office and learned how to type, but I never got involved in doing any thing that involved painting. It was a past time for me,” she said.

Like many Americans on the fateful day of Nov. 22, Ms. Manganelli became aware of the historic news through the voice of famous CBS Evening News anchorman Walter Cronkite.

“At that time in 1963, I was looking for another job. ... So I went to the unemployment (office) and I was coming home and I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t hear anything on the streets until I put the TV on and then I knew what happened,” she said. “I saw Walter Cronkite and I said, ‘Oh my gosh! I didn’t even know he was shot. I thought everybody out in the streets would be talking about it.”

The artist explained that she has done countless paintings in her lifetime, but recently put stopped with the hobby. She also said that she has never sold any of her paintings, but is reconsidering what she’ll do with the JFK one.

“I should have displayed it but I never did. I was thinking at the time (when I painted it) ‘What am I going to do with this?’ I thought about giving it to the (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library) in Boston but I just never did it,” Ms. Manganelli said.

She explained that the painting will go to her niece, Elizabeth, after she passes away. Until then however, she will be holding onto the art.

“I just kept it for all these years and after I pass away, we’ll see what my niece does with it,” she said. “As long as I’m alive, I’d like to keep it with me. It is the only thing I have of him.”

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