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

    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."


    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

    You May Like

    Wife of IS Leader Charged in Death of US Hostage

    Suspect allegedly admitted to being responsible for American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who officials say was sexually abused and ‘owned’ by one IS member

    Year of the Monkey Could Prove Economic Balancing Act for China

    China is up against a tricky situation on the financial front, facing the need to fight capital flight while also stopping a further slide of foreign currency reserves

    Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

    How alluring is running 26.2 miles at 10,000 feet when it’s minus 31 Celsius out?

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.