Published Tuesday, December 3, 2013 in the Sonoma Index Tribune

By Kathleen Hawing

On Friday afternoon, Nov. 22, just an hour before the school bell would ring dismissing students for the week-long Thanksgiving break, I arrived at my office to greet an older gentleman who sat patiently waiting to see me. James Tobler, SVHS Class of 1964, was hoping that I would allow him to visit the classroom, K11, where he sat 50 years ago to the day, when he heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

He asked if he could speak with the students for a few minutes to present a “time capsule,” a living story of what happened and what it felt like on that day.

He wanted to share with the students some life experiences and words of encouragement.

Although my first inclination was doubt, I decided to see if we could accommodate Mr. Tobler’s request. So, 15 minutes later, after a few phone calls, a quick visit to the class and an accommodating classroom teacher’s acceptance, Mr. Tobler was riding in our molasses-slow electric custodial cart across the campus to the K Building, the original, main building off Broadway. He said he could walk, and truthfully our cart is just about on its last leg, but we wanted to give him the VIP treatment, and so we did.

The class assigned to room K11 wasn’t present, but we did have an opportunity to share with the junior AVID class next door. On Nov. 22, 1963, Mr. Tobler sat in the back of K11, in what was then a biology class. The student office aide brought the note and instantly, there were tears. Everyone, young and old, was affected by the tragic news.

Mr. Tobler continued telling his high school story, saying that he didn’t achieve strong marks in high school so he joined the Navy and traveled the world. He visited the island where Lt. John F. Kennedy had been stranded with his crew after his motor torpedo boat, or PT boat, had been rammed by a Japanese destroyer in 1943 during World War II. Kennedy received the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in saving his crew.  During his travels, Mr. Tobler, an entomologist by hobby, visited that same island where Kennedy had been and discovered the insect species, Lestica toberi.

After the Navy, James Tobler attended Santa Rosa Junior College. His message to the students was that they should work hard and be good students. We stopped into the empty K11 classroom as we said goodbye to the AVID class. I think Mr. Tobler appreciated the moment to remember and reflect. John F. Kennedy had been an important part of his life.

We didn’t exchange telephone numbers or business cards. And, I suspect that I won’t have the pleasure of speaking with him anytime soon since he was visiting Sonoma to attend a memorial for a friend. He hadn’t been to the campus for many years. For a few moments, history was brought to the 11th grade-AVID class at SVHS. The visit reminded me that we need to take the time to talk to and really listen to people. Thank you, Mr. Tobler, for taking the time to share with us.

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Kathleen Hawing is principal of Sonoma Valley High School.