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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs