HEBER SPRINGS — Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy spoke at the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam, former President Bill Clinton stood in nearly the same spot and called on politicians to look to Kennedy's example of working to overcome real differences and move the country forward.
Clinton, speaking at an event marking the 50th anniversary of the dam that drew thousands of spectators, said Kennedy's legacy is one of "not having no political debates, not having no fights, but always finding a way to find something we agreed on."
Clinton noted how Kennedy and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus had opposite views on civil rights, but they appeared together at the 1963 dam dedication. Kennedy talked how both men believed in land conservation and Faubus had his liberal father sit with Kennedy at a post-ceremony lunch.
"Why am I saying this? Because they were trying to figure out how to make things work," Clinton said. "They never, with all the fights they had going on, would let the government shut down or let the country default on its debt and hurt us in the face of the rest of the world."
Kennedy stood at the dam and praised the programs of President Franklin Roosevelt as a way of bringing prosperity to the nation. The dedication was one of Kennedy's last public appearances before his assassination in Dallas the following month.
Clinton wasn't at the dedication ceremony then, but he did recall meeting Kennedy a few weeks earlier as a teen representing Arkansas at Boys Nation.
He said Kennedy was "obsessed with trying to honor the future."
"John Kennedy died one month and 19 days after he left this podium," Clinton said. "He could not have known that he just had that long to live. He gave an enormous amount of thought to what he wanted to be doing when he was my age now and even older. But it was not to be and because his life was claimed too soon, in death he became for all the rest of us ... the symbol of the eternal future, the symbol of what we always have to become and that America was always going to be a country on the move, always becoming, always redefining itself."
Beebe recalled how Kennedy spoke at the dedication 50 years earlier about the growth and opportunity the dam would usher in to Heber Springs and the surrounding community.
"Unfortunately, he didn't get to see that," Beebe said. "But we are all beneficiaries of it ... And this growth will continue for generations to come."
Thousands of spectators gathered at the dam for the program. Among them was Janet Ginsberg, a 62-year-old woman who grew up in the area.
Ginsberg was 12 when her father closed his downtown pharmacy for the day and the family went to see Kennedy.
"That was exactly where he was speaking," she said, pointing to a bust of Kennedy behind the stage. "It was just a great day. It's kind of emotional to think, God, we were here 50 years ago."
Ginsberg, who now lives in Maryland, traveled back to Arkansas to see her mother in Little Rock and to revisit the dam a half-century later.
"I'm just thankful what the dam has done for this area," she said. "The area has really prospered."
The Associated Press contributed to this story