Did you know that he was the first American president born in the 20th century? Did you know that he is the only former president with a half-dollar minted after him… and that they’re still in circulation today? Did you know that he is the only former president to have an eternal flame in Arlington National Cemetery?
It doesn’t take long to figure out that John Bockler, a facilities supervisor at Bradley University, has a passion for a certain former president. After just a few short minutes talking to him, you’re likely to get quizzed on some Kennedy trivia. As one of the most popular political leaders in American history, John F. Kennedy has been admired by many, but Bockler’s admiration for the 35th president has gone further than most—turning his Metamora home into a magnet for JFK memorabilia.
Just six years old when Kennedy was assassinated, Bockler grew up revering the many accomplishments the young president was able to achieve during his short time in office—particularly his leadership during the Cuban missile crisis, advances in the U.S. space program, the creation of the Peace Corps and his support for civil rights. “I just think he was a pretty good president, really,” he declares. “Probably the best we ever had.”
Bockler has spent his entire life storing up information about his favorite president, and in the 1980s, this passion turned him into a collector after he inherited what he calls his “most coveted possession”—a vintage painting of Kennedy first displayed in his childhood home.
Today, various photographs of Kennedy hang in Bockler’s garage, along with a large, framed terrycloth towel adorned with a noble image of the late president. Newspaper clippings from the days following the fateful events of November 22, 1963, fill the blank spaces on the walls, and a number of pictures of Bockler with Kennedy—“photoshopped” gifts from loved ones who enjoy indulging his fanaticism—are on display.
A closer look inside his home reveals additional hidden treasures subtly showcased or tucked away in nooks and crannies. Visitors can find an antique, miniature JFK bust; a vinyl record that plays the story of the Kennedy dynasty; a commemorative plate depicting the cover of the Peoria Journal Star on the day of his inauguration; coffee cans filled with Kennedy half-dollars; and media clippings, books, pins, postcards, bookmarks and other mementos accumulated through friends and in his travels across the country, including stops at Arlington and the infamous Texas School Book Depository.
“I just pick things up,” Bockler says. “I wouldn’t say I’m an avid collector, but when I see something, I grab it.”
Also a handy woodworker, Bockler plans to craft a set of glass cases to exhibit his collection formally sometime in the near-future. And he’s already excited for his next big vacation: a trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. “When I go to Boston I’ll be buying a lot… That will increase the collection dramatically… I’ll probably have to have things shipped home!” a&s