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CHARDON -- It was 1959, and a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts needed three Cadillac convertibles to tour Chardon for the annual Maple Syrup Festival.

"At this point Senator Kennedy was not formally running for president, but he was THE politician of the moment -- a Democrat drawing huge crowds in Republican red Geauga County," recalls then head of the Geauga County Democratic Party John Reithoffer.

Reithoffer would spend three hours with Kennedy that day, talking politics, the region and their common thread: Kennedy's service the Marines during World War II.

"At first he was a little standoffish -- then when he found out I was in the Navy in World War II, he made a 180-degree turn," Reithoffer said. "He became very good and friendly and close. Jackie Kennedy was the same way: very, very friendly. But she tried to stay in the background because Jack was the most important person there."

"After taking him back to the airport, I didn't wash my hand for a week so it wouldn't wash off. He was a fine gentleman, as was his wife a fine lady," he said.

The day he learned the news of the president's death was a singular day, made that much harder by the three hours they shared together.

"Whenever you lose somebody that you like or that you know, it hurts -- and I did know him for three hours."