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

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid