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How a Small Town Lifeguard Changed the World
By: Peter P. Bozanich

Reprinted from the Eden Prairie News, June 09, 2004

Last fall, I visited Dixon, Ill., the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan.

I toured his home and saw the small bedroom that he shared with his brother. Although his parents were poor, it wasn't a fact that he even realized until later in life.

"I never thought of our family as disadvantaged," he remembered. "Only later did the government decide that it had to tell people they were poor."

I saw the high school he attended where his dream of playing football came true.

I walked the beach where he had worked as lifeguard. He remembered it as one of his favorite jobs ever. In his seven years as lifeguard he saved 77 lives. A plaque there today commemorates his heroics.

Reagan believed that small-town life uniquely prepared him for his political career. In a small town you get to know people as individuals rather than political blocks. You learn that all people pretty much want the same things in life: "Freedom, liberty, peace, love, 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."

He followed his dreams and eventually became a Hollywood actor. It was here that he began to learn about the oppressive nature of big government. For example, he was advised to make no more than two films per year. Making a third film, he was told, would put him in the federal government's 90 percent tax bracket and all of his profits would be confiscated.

"Why," he wondered, "would government intentionally punish people who want to be more productive?"

It was his belief in the individual and adherence to the principles of personal freedom that, I believe, led to the phenomenal success he would later enjoy as President.

Ronald Reagan was the first president of my adult life. The year was 1980 and America was a very different place than it is now. Interest rates were 21 percent. There were gas lines and back-to-back years of double-digit inflation. Jobs were scarce. And remedies being offered included even more sacrifice and further doses of government control.

America was no longer the world's leader. The Vietnam War was lost. The Soviets were in Afghanistan. Iran had hostages. Despite all this, Americans were told that it is dangerous to stand up to tyrants. Some even suggested that peace could only be achieved through unilateral disarmament.

Ronald Reagan would have none of this.

He declared that American workers were the good guys and we were not free enough. He believed that government should never do for people what they can and should do for themselves. He was fond of saying: "The best social program is a job."

Taxes came down. He presided over the biggest peacetime recovery in American history. New companies like Microsoft and Cisco began hiring workers by the thousands.

Around the world, Reagan saw a similar problem: Americans are the good guys and the people of the world are not free enough. He answered the growing Soviet threat with two simple words: "Evil empire."

The shock waves were felt around the world. When Reagan shouted: "Tear down this wall," the wall came down. Today millions of people around the world live free. Even Mikhail Gorbachev credits one man, Ronald Reagan, for the end of the Cold War. The Great Communicator was also the world's Great Liberator.

President Reagan was a man of great and unabashed faith. He believed in the need for and the power of prayer. He was convinced that God had put this nation between these two oceans for a very specific purpose. And that purpose was to be a beacon of freedom at home and around the world.

His optimism was contagious. He never lost hope that America could be better than it was. I will always remember his confidence, his smile, his disarming wit, the way he would lift people's spirits with just a wink. I offer my condolences to his family and eternal gratitude for his vision and determination.

We will miss you, Dutch. May you rest in peace.


Peter P. Bozanich is an Eden Prairie resident. He can be reached at

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