Day of Remembrance, Nov. 22: Community College of Philadelphia Remembers JFK, Opens Exhibit Showcasing the City's Connection to Kennedy

Philadelphia, PA. (Nov. 8, 2013)–Community College of Philadelphia will host a day of remembrance on Nov. 22, marking the 50th anniversary of the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, America’s 35th president.

For the first time, the College will open to the public a coin art exhibit showcasing the life and works of Gilroy Roberts, the Ninth Chief  Engraver of the U.S. Mint whose signature medallic portrait of President John F. Kennedy was used for the obverse (face side) of the Kennedy half dollar. The 1,000-square-foot exhibit called “Gilroy Roberts: Mastering the Craft”, is housed in the regal corridors of the Mint Building’s Rotunda, an elegant space graced with Italian marble and gold mosaic. The Mint Building formerly served as the home of the nation’s third U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.

A brief ceremony honoring Kennedy will begin at noon, Friday, Nov. 22, in the Rotunda, which is on Spring Garden Street between 16th and 17th streets.  Students, faculty and staff will mark the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination with brief remarks, reflection and a solemn flag ceremony featuring an honor guard. The event will conclude with a moment of silence at 12:30 p.m., as students, faculty and guests are invited to reflect upon his life and death.
Every visitor to the College’s gallery on Nov. 22 will receive a card inscribed with Kennedy’s 1961 famous inaugural quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." Guests will be invited to write down how they intend to respond in 2013 to Kennedy’s call to action. The remembrance pledges will be placed on a wall and later added to the College’s historic archives. The College will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.

The exhibit was made possible by the Gilroy and Lillian P. Roberts Foundation’s $1.02 million gift to the Community College of Philadelphia in 2012. The donation sought to preserve the historic Philadelphia collection and the legacy of an engraver whose likeness of John F. Kennedy is recognized around the world.

A month after the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Congress authorized a memorial in the form of the Kennedy half dollar. Roberts helped to create the obverse (face side) of the Kennedy half dollar and kept a personal journal chronicling the process. On Feb. 11, 1964, the first of the new Kennedy half dollars for general circulation were struck at the mints in Philadelphia and Denver.

Since its debut in 1964, more than 4.1 billion Kennedy half dollars have been struck by the artisans of the United States Mint. According to the U.S. Mint, the only significant change to the original design came as a result of the Nation's Bicentennial celebration in 1976 when an image of Philadelphia's Independence Hall temporarily replaced the Seal of the President on the coin's reverse, and a dual date (1776-1976) was placed under the portrait of President Kennedy on the obverse.

The Gilroy and Lillian P. Roberts Charitable Foundation moved the pieces in the exhibit to the College in 2012. The interactive exhibit includes sculpturing tools, including homemade items,  in addition to drawings, medals, and coins. It showcases a diorama replication of Roberts’ artist studio once located at his Newtown Square, Pa. home. And it features three multimedia components:

  • The Anatomy of a Coin: An interactive station where visitors explore the elements of the 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar and learn interesting historic facts related to its design.
  • An introduction to Gilroy Roberts Video Experience: Coin collectors and Gilroy Roberts admirers can gain insight into the man and his life by listening to the artist’s own words. Roberts was the first Chief Sculptor and Engraver for the U.S. to retire, rather than die in office.
  • The Art of Coining Video Experience: Visitors view a short video depicting the minting of US Coins at the Philadelphia Mint, followed by a short captioned sideshow of historic images.

Victoria Prizzia, Founder/President at Habitheque Inc., served as the exhibit planner, along with Metcalf Architecture & Design. Two other Philadelphia firms, Greenhouse Media and Blair Brothers Music, also participated in its development. The College’s architecture students contributed major design elements, including the UV window overlay imprinted with the Kennedy half dollar that covers circular windows and protects the artifacts.

Upon his death at age 86, the items in Roberts’ basement studio were packed up and shipped to the American Numismatics Association, where they first were put on exhibition in Boulder, Colo. As the Association expanded, however, it no longer had space to house the collection, which was brought back to Philadelphia and ultimately ended up at the very site Gilroy Roberts carved his own place in history: The Mint Building.

Though Roberts primarily is known as an engraver, family and friends say he actually made most of his fortune after Joseph Segel, the founder of The Franklin Mint, recruited him to work in private industry. The Gilroy and Lillian P. Roberts Charitable Foundation disburses more than $400,000 yearly.