by Peter P. Bozanich

Author's note: These are pictures I took on my most recent trip to Dixon, Illinois in the Fall 2003. Ronald Reagan was the first American President of my adult life. I will miss him greatly.

Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, IL in 1911. His family even spent some time on the south side of Chicago. But spent from age 9 to age 21 in Dixon. These were his formative years and Dixon was the only town he ever referred to when he told about growing up.

“Later in life I learned that, compared with some of the folks who lived in Dixon, our family was "poor." But I didn't know that when I was growing up. And I never thought of our family as disadvantaged. Only later did the government decide that it had to tell people they were poor.”

This was “the good life” for Reagan. He loved his days on the Rock River so much that he had a picture of the beach where he worked as a lifeguard for 7 years on his wall in the Oval Office.

You can bearly see the picture hanging
on the far right of this photo.

“As I look back on those days in Dixon, I think my life was as sweet and idyllic as it could be, as close as I could imagine for a young boy to the world created by Mark Twain in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

“I think growing up in a small town is a good foundation for anyone who decides to enter politics. You get to know people as individuals, not as blocs or members of special interest groups. You discover that, despite their differences, most people have a lot in common: Every individual is unique, but we all want freedom and liberty, peace, love and security, a good home, and a chance to worship God in our own way; we all want the chance to get ahead and make our children's lives better than our own. We all want the chance to work at a job of our own choosing and to be fairly rewarded for it and the opportunity to control our own destiny.”
This is the bedroom Ronald Reagan shared with his brother. They have it decorated with sports pennants. There’s even a bat and glove near the closet.

Reagan’s home is located a few blocks from the Rock River at 816 Hennepin Avenue. It was restored to the 1920’s period after he became President.

When he returned to Dixon to see it he said: “if I knew it was this nice, I may have never left”. He also commented how low to the ground everything was now. He remembered everything being “much bigger”. A phenomenon of growing up, I guess.

This is the school Reagan attended - only a few blocks away from his house.

“When I entered Dixon High School in 1924, I was thirteen and worshipped football more than anything else in the world. I wanted desperately to play for the school team. The fact that my brother was already a starter on the team only intensified my resolve.
“Then one Saturday morning, the coach, who had decided he was unhappy with the playing of one of our first-string guards, convened our regular pre-game meeting in the locker room and, reading off the starting team, said - I'll never forget it - ‘Right Guard - Reagan.’
“Once I got in, I never let the other guy get his position back. The first string job was mine for the rest of the season and during my senior year, when I'd grown even bigger, I was a starter from the beginning.”
“About my second year in high school, I got one of the best jobs I ever had: I began the first of seven summers working as a lifeguard at Lowell Park, a three-hundred-acre forested sanctuary on the Rock River named for the poet James Russell Lowell, whose family had given the property to the city. I'd taken a course on lifesaving at the YMCA and when an opening for a lifeguard came up, I went to my old employer in the construction business and told him I was going to have to quit. I worked seven days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, for $15 - later $20 - a week and one of the proudest statistics of my life is seventy-seven - the number of people I saved during those seven summers.”

It is no longer a swimming beach but a plaque is there commemorating Reagan’s heroics.

“The dreams of people may differ, but everyone wants their dreams to come true. Not everybody aspires to be a bank president or a nuclear scientist, but everybody wants to do something with one's life that will give him or her pride and a sense of accomplishment. And America, above all places, gives us the freedom to do that, the freedom to reach out and make our dreams come true.”
Many people remember Ronald Reagan for bringing honor and hope to our country. He stood against an overspending Congress and fought against the moral decay of abortion and porn. But perhaps his biggest achievement was his fight for the cause of freedom.

Mikhail Gorbachev credits one man, Ronald Reagan, for bringing about an end to Soviet communism.

A large chunk of the Berlin Wall sits on display in Dixon - a poignant monument to freedom and the man who played a key role in bringing about that freedom.

On the front of the Wall are joyful expressions of that freedom.


In the center you see a plaque commemorating Reagan’s pivotal speech imploring the Soviet leader to let his people be free.

The back of the Wall is empty except for one small painting - a stark reminder of oppression left behind.


Other art pieces adorn the area.

The statue on the right, “Wings of Freedom”, was donated by Bulgarian artist Nick Tanev as an “expression of gratitude for President Ronald Reagan for his part in ending the Cold War”. Mr. Tanev attributed his own success and good fortune to his leaving the oppression of communist Bulgaria “for the prosperity and hope he found in the United States of America”. The sculpture is a symbol of the joy and triumph he found in the peace and freedom in his new adopted homeland.


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