22 Days In November
7:19 am
Wed November 13, 2013

'JFK Was My Superman': Oak Cliff Businessman Creates Personal Kennedy Tribute

Throughout November, KERA will mark the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination by taking a closer look at that fateful day, what it meant to the country, how it changed Dallas, and more.

Today, we take a look at an Oak Cliff businessman who has created his own personal tribute to JFK. KERA’s BJ Austin sat down with Ralph Isenberg.

 

Ralph Isenberg’s office is on the 12th floor of the Oak Cliff Tower at Zang and 12th. As principal owner of the building, he has a great view of downtown and an office stuffed with eclectic artwork, sculpture and curios.

"Well, I guess," Isenberg said as he looked around.  "You know, it's me." 

For decades, Isenberg has been collecting John F. Kennedy memorabilia, artifacts and artwork. He's sharing part of his large collection in an exhibit that he designed in the first floor lobby.

"What we try to do in only 12 works of art is  to tell the story of President Kennedy," Isenberg said. "So, I used an artist from New Orleans to go to one of Kennedy's biggest challenges, the civil rights crisis.  These are original, signed Dalis of the Vietnam Suite." 

The four works by Salvador Dali represent Kennedy’s decision to send U.S. advisors to Vietnam.  A piece by Alexander Calder addresses the world nuclear threat. And there's a bronze bust of the president by sculptor Felix de Weldon. 

A recreated 1960s-era living room has a TV that plays CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite’s coverage of the assassination and the presidential funeral.  Across the lobby is a collection of Kennedy campaign buttons and a JFK doll in a rocking chair.

Isenberg says he became fascinated with Kennedy as a 9-year-old boy in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. That’s where he got to shake the future president’s hand.

"You know John F. Kennedy, President Kennedy, was my Superman," Isenberg said, with a look reminiscent of that 9 year old.

Isenberg says he began collecting all things Kennedy three years later, after the president was killed.  And he says he never dreamed he would settle in Dallas.

"I must admit in all honesty, when I first moved to Dallas I hated this city," Isenberg said with intensity. "I would drive by the School Book Depository building and I had a saying: 'I hate that building.'  I would always say that."  

But he says his attitude began to change after the opening of the Sixth Floor Museum and its thoughtful presentation of the assassination and the Kennedy legacy.  Now, he hopes his one-man JFK exhibit does the same.

"The exact details of what happened when President Kennedy died have never gone away," Isenberg said. "I can bring it up as if it were yesterday, or an hour ago, with exactness." 

KERA wants to hear your JFK stories and memories. Email us at jfk@kera.org. We may contact you or use your memory in an upcoming story.