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