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On centennial of JFK’s birth, memories of a different era

Representative Joe Kennedy III greeted Tara Redepenning and her daughter Grace of Cambridge outside John F. Kennedy’s birthplace.
Representative Joe Kennedy III greeted Tara Redepenning and her daughter Grace of Cambridge outside John F. Kennedy’s birthplace.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

BROOKLINE — On a day when John F. Kennedy would have turned 100, visitors to his birthplace on a quiet, tree-lined street Monday extolled the virtues of a presidency built upon unity and a broad worldview.

Such leadership, they said, is needed now more than ever as the United States is riven by bitter political divisions.

“His spirit was one of inclusion and looking forward,” said Jillian Hoyt, 35, of Brighton, her eyes moist with tears. “That’s really missing today.”

US Representative Joe Kennedy III, JFK’s grand-nephew, referenced the sharp political divide that has followed the election of Republican Donald Trump as president in his remarks to the crowd gathered at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site.

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“Today we face leadership that seems intent on dividing Americans up, rather than pulling us together,” Kennedy said, according to a copy of his speech. “One system for the powerful, the wealthy, the healthy. Another for the sick and struggling and suffering. One country for those who pray to a certain God, love a certain person, look a certain way . . . It is hard — for many of us — to be proud of that.”

From his birthplace in Brookline to his presidential library on Dorchester Bay, the centennial of JFK’s birth was celebrated with speeches, songs — and plenty of birthday cake and Boston Cream cupcakes.

At the John F. Kennedy Library, hundreds gathered to view a special 100th anniversary exhibit and listen to public reflection about the legacy of the nation’s 35th president.

At both events, today’s political climate was never far from the surface.

JFK had a “aspirational way that challenged America . . . and to get America united behind you,” Kennedy said as he signed programs and posed for photos with well-wishers. “That seems to be a different framework than the political environment we’re living in today.”

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The visitors included those from distant lands.

“There is no doubt in the wide world that he is a man that not only America, but the world still needs,’’ said Rod Quinn, 53, an Australian radio broadcaster, who traveled to Boston for the centennial celebrations. “He was a man who believed in every nation in the world having their say.”

In Brookline, more than 500 people turned out to celebrate at the house at 83 Beals St., where JFK was born in an upstairs bedroom on May 29, 1917.

“This is where he took his first steps,” said Jim Roberts, supervisory park ranger at the historic site managed by the National Park Service.

At the JFK Library, hundreds watched videos of Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, read about his children’s life in the White House, and listened to news reports of his assassination at age 46 on Nov. 22, 1963.

“We’re huge Kennedy fans,” said Kathleen Harris, a single mother from Brighton who brought her two sons to the celebration. “I just think this is a great chance for them to learn about a historic president.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke of Kennedy’s impact and legacy, including his military service in the US Navy during World War II.

“He carried the pain of his wounds all the way to the White House,” said Walsh, speaking inside the library’s Smith Hall. “We should look, as President Kennedy did, to our veterans as a guiding and inspirational light.”

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A scheduled flyover by Navy fighter jets had to be canceled because of the weather.

When the formal events were done, it was time to eat cake. Montilio’s Baking Co. of Brockton created a 7 foot-by-8-foot replica of the library. A separate cake featured a presidential seal and a portrait of JFK, decorated with red, white and blue flowers.

“It’s so nice and important to remember President Kennedy,” Peter Graham of Portland, Maine, said between bites of yellow cake. “What better way than to party?”


Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe. Andrew Grant can be reached atandrew.grant@globe.com.