News / USA

Ronald Reagan's Hometown Celebrates His 100th Birthday

This image provided by the US Postal Service shows the Forever postage stamp honoring former President Ronald Reagan, which was released February 10, 2011
This image provided by the US Postal Service shows the Forever postage stamp honoring former President Ronald Reagan, which was released February 10, 2011

Multimedia

Kane Farabaugh

Though he gained prominence as an actor in Hollywood and later as President of the United States, the people of Dixon, Illinois, remember Ronald Reagan as a hometown hero who saved the lives of 77 people while working as a lifeguard. The town is honoring Reagan’s 100th birthday this year, with a year-long celebration. The 40th President's hometown was never very far from his heart.

Ninety-five-year-old Gertrude Childers almost didn’t make it past the age of 15. She was swimming in the Rock River near Dixon, Illinois, one warm summer day in 1931, when she failed to notice another swimmer barreling down the water slide. ".. and our timing was so perfect as he came down, I pushed out, and this man landed right on my neck and shoulders and of course it knocked me out," Childers said.

She would have drowned right then and there, if it had not been for the lifeguard everyone called "Dutch," who pulled her limp body out of the water. "Everybody knew Dutch. He was just always there," Childers said.

Gertrude was number 70 on the list of 77 people the locals say "Dutch" saved in his career as a lifeguard.

When "Dutch", known to the rest of the world as Ronald Reagan, went on to star in movies, and to lead the state of California and later the United States, his next-door neighbor in Dixon, Helen Lawton, had a hard time calling him "Governor," or "Mr. President." "Well he was just "Dutch" Reagan to us!," she said.

Dixon, Illinois, population 16,000, is still in many ways the small Midwestern community where Ronald Reagan grew up. Only now, the town is known throughout the world.

"He’s been a good public relations arm for the city of Dixon," said Jim Burke, Dixon’s mayor, though on the opposite side of politics from Ronald Reagan. "I’m a Democrat... but a big Reagan supporter," he said.

Reagan’s popularity has been of great benefit to Dixon, attracting tourists from around the world who want to explore the place that molded the character of a man who would become President. "He always kept his roots, and I think that is how he is celebrated here, as a guy who went on to great success but never lost his humility," Burke said.

That humility is on display in the modest home where Reagan spent much of his childhood. Completely renovated, it is an historic landmark, and the most popular tourist attraction in the region.

"We have ranged from 15,000 to about 30,000 in the years that it has been open. When Mr. Reagan passed away that year, it was bumped up considerably," said Ann Lewis, the chairwoman of the Dixon Reagan Centennial Commission. She is expecting a record number of visitors to the city this year as Dixon, and the state of Illinois, celebrate Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday.

That celebration began with much fanfare.

At the historic Dixon Theater, the place where Ronald Reagan watched the films that would inspire his career as an actor, musicians from around the country gathered to honor "Dutch."

"It’s more of an anthem to his optimism - his moral character… all those things he really believed in," said music professor David Holsinger. He says it was only fitting that Dixon hosted the debut of his original composition, titled "Reagan of Illinois."

"It is something special when you walk into a place like this. 'Cause you can sense it in not only the people and the buildings and all the landmarks around, but you can… it’s kind of in the air," Holsinger said.

While the attention in Dixon now focuses larger-than-life statues and memorials to the nation's 40th President, organizers say the Reagan Centennial is meant to honor the essence of the man. A man who many in Dixon remember less as an icon of the big screen, or the President of the United States, endeavoring to end the Cold War, than as a fair-haired lifeguard who saved the lives of Gertrude Childers and 76 others - back when everyone called him "Dutch."

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More