Friday, February 7, 2014

Ronald Reagan's Heart: Three Emotional Landmarks

Double rainbow over Ronald Reagan’s birthplace 
the night before his election to the presidency.

What a difference a year makes!

A year ago, I attended the 102nd anniversary celebration of President Ronald Reagan’s birth at Eureka College after penning Ronald Reagan’s Heart: Two Emotional Landmarks. (See below.) His son Michael described the college as about the size of a “postage stamp” 
last night at a 103rd anniversary celebration in Washington, DC hosted 
by the Reagan Alumni Association. Indeed, it is—exemplifying, Michael said, his humble roots. 

On this morning, a year ago, I was wrapping up a meeting with a key legislator in Springfield, Illinois, seeking support to save Reagan’s Chicago home on the South Side—another illustration of just how humble Reagan’s roots were. This legislator told me he had grown up a virtual orphan and Reagan had been a father figure for him. He said he would do what he could.

Of course, the home was demolished. But not the larger cause, the most important emotional landmark, which Reagan fought so hard for.  The work of Major General Paul E. Vallely (US Army Ret), Chairman, Stand Up America, about which I wrote in this piece, fittingly published yesterday, is a prime example.

As Reagan always said, “It can be done!”  But, it is often quite difficult, as this other towering figure, St. Thomas More, born on this day in 1478, is a testament to.

Mary Claire Kendall
President, Friends of President Reagan’s Chicago Home

The author at a tribute to President Reagan in
Washington, D.C. on the 103rd anniversary of his birth


 2/06/2013 @ 8:00AM

Mary Claire Kendall
Mary Claire Kendall, Contributor
I write about Hollywood legends and real life.
Ronald Reagan's Heart: Two Emotional Landmarks

Double rainbow over Ronald Reagan’s birthplace the night before his election to the presidency.
When former President Ronald Reagan visited his birthplace in Tampico, Illinois on May 10, 1992, this tender-hearted, consummate gentleman, fast-fading with enveloping Alzheimers, wept, said curator Joan Johnson, as he laid eyes on the bed, where his mother Nelle had labored for many difficult hours, before giving birth to him on February 6, 1911.
His father Jack, Reagan later recounted, quipped right after his birth, “For such a little bit of a fat Dutchman, he makes a lot of noise doesn’t he?” His mother, though weak, beamed, “I think he’s perfectly wonderful.”  Both the endearing name and positive opinion stuck.
Today, all of us who came to understand how “perfectly wonderful” Ronald Wilson “Dutch” Reagan was, celebrate his birthday, hearts overflowing with gratitude for this giant of American history—the only president born and bred in Illinois.
After four years in Tampico, the family moved to Chicago’s South Side—a culture shock for Reagan’s dad, who began drinking more heavily. But, there was a silver lining. It was only because of Jack Reagan’s drinking habit that conservative commentator Tom Roeser, was, years later, in talking with President Reagan, able to pinpoint the exact site of the president’s Chicago home—on southwest corner of the University of Chicago, located diametrically opposite President Barack Obama’s Hyde Park home on the northeast corner.
In Tampico, the population was less than 1000. There the Reagans lived in a spacious six-room rented second-floor apartment above a bakery from September 1906 to May 1911 while Jack worked across the street at Pitney General Store.  Shortly after Dutch’s birth, his father was promoted from merchandiser to manager and the family rented a large house around the corner, where they lived until December 15, 1914.
When Mr. Pitney sold his store, Jack scrambled for employment and landed a job at Marshall Field’s Mayfair Annex near the University of Chicago.  Right after the first of the year the family moved to Chicago, population 2.2 million, where Jack and Nelle chose another flat with six rooms—an architectural feature unique to Illinois, and particularly Chicago, that gives an apartment the feel of a house.
As with Tampico’s “Main Street Historic District,” in 1982, the South Side neighborhood in which the Reagan’s home at 832 E. 57th Street resided, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1986. As Jack Spicer, Chair of the Hyde Park Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Committee, said, paraphrasing, “It is the finest remaining example of what was once a solid and working and middle-class black neighborhood.”(Chicago Sun-Times, February 6, 2011)
Like the birthplace, the Hyde Park home was the scene of memories that tapped a deep well of emotion in President Reagan, evidenced by his reaction upon Mayor Jane Byrne presenting a photo of the home to him in September 1981, six months after the assassination attempt.  His eyes became misty, showing a hint of tears, as he absorbed all the memories of his time living there—like when four-year-old Dutch and his six-year-old brother Neil, nicknamed “Moon,” would go to White City, an amusement park a mile from their home, laden with freshly made popcorn they would sell to amusement park patrons to help supplement the family income, increasingly diminished because of Jack’s drinking habit.
As some might have heard, the home now hangs in the balance as the city and university decide whether to spare it from being demolished—and if spared, how to honor President Reagan’s memory there.  (No, it’s not true the block on which the home sits will be transformed into a parking garage for the Obama library.)
Our hope is that President Reagan’s memory will be honored in a big way on the site of the planned 240-bed hospital facility—right across the street from The Center for Care and Discovery, featuring state-of-the-art Alzheimer’s Research.
But, it will take money and lots of it toward which end the Friends of President Reagan’s Chicago Home, Inc., founded by a group of devoted Reaganauts in December, incorporated just three short weeks ago, are determined to do what it takes.
The ideal would be, working with the university, to transform the home into a museum and center that elegantly showcases President Reagan’s historic presidency, as well as his roots, with the apartment restored to its 1915 splendor, while at the same time, perfectly complementing the mission of the university’s Center for Care and Discovery.   And, that’s where we hope to get particularly creative.
In so doing, this Chicago home, where little Dutch was being prepared for greatness, would complete “The Reagan Trail” of homes where the only president born and bred in Illinois grew up—a president who died of Alzheimer’s, a cure for which, in the ultimate irony of history, might be found on the very site where Reagan’s first and most vivid memories were formed.
UPDATE: The Ronald Reagan Birthplace in Tampico reached their fundraising goal to finance the statue they had commissioned, showing three-year old “Dutch” Reagan playing on a Civil War cannon as he did so often when growing up in Tampico. It was placed in Reagan Park (formerly Railroad Park) in October 2013. See

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Heavenly Review of "William 'Bill' Walton: A Charmed Life" by Glenda A. Bixler

What an incredible, awesome, breathtaking review by Glenda A. Bixler of William ‘Bill’ Walton: A Charmed Life, which it was my privilege to transform in 2012-2013, landing the publisher to boot!  (Probably my friend Redd Griffin’s intervention from heaven—both the publisher and this, ahem, heavenly review. Redd was the one who introduced me to the author, Mary Hackett, married to Bill’s nephew Jack, who was such a delight to work with.)  In fact, Bixler’s blog is dubbed “Book Reader’s Heaven.” That nails it. This was ALL Redd’s doing. Thank you, Redd! Below is a portion of her review... 

William "Bill" Walton: A Charmed Life - Fascinating Historical Bio on WWII Journalist!

World Battlefronts: Parachute Landing in Normandy

The night before D-Day, few of the paratrooper comrades of TIME Correspondent William Walton tried to sleep. After midnight they turned out, climbed into EUR-475. They were the spear head; some of them would not live to see that day's dawn. Walton, a qualified parachutist attached to the outfit, crawled in with them, was soon over France. He cabled: I plunged out of the plane door happy to be leaving a ship that was heading toward flak and more Germans. The jump was from such low altitude...                                                                                             

William "Bill" Walton: A Charmed Life
By Mary Hackett
Edited by Mary Claire Kendall

London was teeming with fascinating people such
as attractive and self-assured Martha Gellhorn, the
third and current wife of Ernest Hemingway, who
would also become a close friend of Bill.
A writer will always write and when William Walton went to report on many activities in Europe, he also wrote letters home to his family. He had always thought of writing his own biography, but thankfully, the family, and, in particular his sister-in-law Mary Hackett saw that his letters could be turned into one of the most interesting books sharing American history from a journalist's viewpoint...
Those who will want to travel with him into the war years will certainly have the opportunity. I think the thing that made the
As he stood, he surveyed the once peaceful
and picturesque rural area of Normandy,
looking in horror at the blight that blanketed
the land: houses and barns now riddled with
holes; trees reduced to scattered fragments;
equipment smashed to pieces. Bill said the
fate of the dairy herds, one of the war's
signature images, was even worse--stinking
black and white cows, sometimes one lonely
cow, often scores, lying lifeless in fields.
It was a disheartening scene, one that he
could not have imagined...Most of Bill's
exposure to war had been viewed from an
aircraft flying high over a city, not on the
ground where up-close images of
extensive carnage and flattened structures
were forever seared in his memory.
most impression on me regarding his desire to do all that he could to keep America informed
English: Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway ...
English: Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with unidentified Chinese military officers, Chungking, China, 1941. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
was to accept an invitation to train as a paratrooper. He jumped so that he was already there by the time the ground troops showed up!

But not all was about the war... Bill became close friends with Ernest Hemingway and his wife Martha Gellhorn, shown at the left...Hemingway even saved Bill's life, but there were many times for social gatherings as well.

One personal interest caught my attention--Bill was there when the most wanted gangster, John Dillinger was killed, and rode with his body to the Cook County morgue. {Me, I'm related to the Dillingers and had a John Dillinger in my family who always got picked on--LOL} Bill..."noticed that Dillinger must, at some point, have attempted to fie or burn his hands in an effort to eliminate identifying fingerprints...This reporting coup gave Bill his first national recognition. His byline, "by William Walton," would soon begin to appear in many more publications..."

Another little tidbit I enjoyed was that when, in June 1946, Bill stood to receive an honorary degree he gave a little [payback] speech... "he noticed that most of the faculty seated before him were those who had voted to kick him out almost 20 years earlier...At the end of his speech, to express his displeasure with the school's heavy-handed discipline so many years before, he turned his backside to the assembled crowd and bowed. Later, he commented to his family, "There was a very nice shape to that!"  To me, that's why we enjoy reading about people's lives, don't we?!

The body of John F. Kennedy in repose
 in the White House on November 23, 1963.
William Walton helped research the funerary
decorations for the room and the dressing
 for the catafalque.

I became fascinated with Walton's love of the outdoors and his painting activities, which became a little more well known when Bill became friends with John F. Kennedy and his family to carry through even to helping with the arrangements for his burial. There is quite a bit covering that time and his friendship with Jackie afterward Kennedy's death. "(1949-1960)"

Life, for whom he had also worked, took his friendship with Kennedy to write an article about his paintings. in "Life" in 1961. At first when you read somebody is an artist and a friend of Ernest Hemingway, et. al., don't you just wonder where somebody gets all that talent, LOL! I don't know about you, but you must begin to admire this man, don't you think?!

AND LATER in the review, Bixler writes:

On the other hand, of course, there are not too many Americans who cannot cite Kennedy's last line: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." That night the overture "From Sea to Shining Sea" was played for the first time in public...