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Flashback Friday: LBJ crashed St. Paul couple's wedding during Twin Cities visit 55 years ago

Updated: July 02, 2019 12:35 PM

Jack and Shirley Lucente were childhood sweethearts who grew up together in St. Paul and finally tied the knot 55 years ago this week - on June 27, 1964.

"She went to St. Stans and I went to St. Francis (De Sales)," Jack said. "She used to babysit for our neighbors. I fell in love with her right away.

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"God, she was beautiful. She truly, truly was."

The wedding took place at the Church of St. Stanislaus on a sweltering summer Saturday afternoon. The reception was held in the Oak Room of the old Prom Ballroom on the corner of Lexington and University.

And beyond the family and friends on hand to wish the young couple well were some famous faces who dropped by for a quick hello.

A group led by the President of the United States - Lyndon Johnson.

"What  a way that was to start married life, I'll tell you that," said Lucente, who now resides in Arizona. "Not many couples get the President to drop by their reception." 

Johnson, who had taken office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy the previous November, was gearing up to run for the office in his own right that fall - a matchup that would pit him against Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.

And politics were very much on his mind when he touched down in the Twin Cities. He spoke at the DFL State Convention, held at the St. Paul Auditorium. Then he headlined a fundraising reception and dinner in Minneapolis.

It was in between those two events that Johnson's motorcade happened to be heading down University Avenue. And he noticed the new bride and groom on the curb outside the Prom Ballroom.

He ordered the car to halt, backing up traffic behind them. Then he and his entourage got out to offer congratulations.

That group also included then-U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey. Both Humphrey and fellow Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy were being considered as Johnson's running mate in the upcoming election.

Each had been on hand to greet LBJ when he landed in Minnesota. Though it was Humphrey who eventually got the nod when the Democratic National Convention got underway that August in Atlantic City.

"The reception had just broken up and my wife and I were coming out at the same time Johnson and Humphrey and (then Governor) Karl Rolvaag were coming by," Lucente remembers. "They stopped right there on University, which backed up traffic in both directions.

"Then they came walking up. We had no idea they were going to be coming by at that moment. It just so happened we were coming out at the right time and Johnson saw us."

The couple received an invitation to attend the fundraising dinner that evening. But it was their wedding night, and Lucente said they had ... other plans.

"We had to turn that one down," he recalls with a chuckle.

Johnson, meanwhile, stayed overnight at the Sheraton-Ritz Hotel, then attended mass at Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church the following day. That was followed by an appearance at Svenskarnas Dag, the annual Swedish celebration held in Minnehaha Park - as well as time spent viewing Minnehaha Falls itself.

It was a view the Minneapolis Park Board spent $600 to make happen. According to the June 27, 1964 edition of the Minneapolis Tribune, the creek's water levels were low that summer and needed to be raised to make the falls more than a trickle.

As for the Lucentes, Jack said their lives together would be cut short when Shirley died of Hodgkin's lymphoma in the 1970s.

"That was so tough," he said. "But we did get a lot of great time together. We dated since the time we were 14 - if you can call going roller skating dating.

"But it was considered that at the time."

And their wedding day was made all the more memorable by the Presidential seal of approval they received.

"A lot of people came to our reception," Lucente said. "But only one of them was the President of the United States. I'll always have that memory."

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Credits

Frank Rajkowski

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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