On our recent trip to Illinois with friends Rick and Gay Kirkton, our first stop was Dixon, Illinois, population 15,000. This is the hometown of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
We toured the restored and immaculately maintained home where the Reagan family of four lived from 1920-1923. It’s a classic, two-story American home built in 1891 on a tree-lined street. As American as apple pie.
The Reagan family, which consisted of parents Jack and Nelle, and sons Neil and little brother Ron, rented this and other homes in the area. There was no family wealth; Nelle was a homemaker and Jack sold shoes.
Ron lived in the home, sharing a room with his older brother, Neil, when Ron was 9-13.
The family attended the First Christian Church in town. Ron and his mother taught Sunday School there.
The home has few original furnishings, notably a quilt that belonged to Nelle is all that was pointed out, but is filled with period décor. The bathroom tub is original, as is the woodwork and other features.
The original fireplace and tile surround on the floor are present and come with a cool story. Apparently Ron knew there was a loose tile and would lift it to hide small amounts of change.
Ron, Nancy and Ron’s brother Neil visited the home in 1984 when Ron checked out the tile and placed a few pennies there.
At that time, he was President and it was decided in advance that the Reagans might enjoy a quiet meal in the dining room. The story goes that during a pre-visit security sweep, Secret Service noted a window with a clear view of the table in the small dining room. They didn’t want to draw attention to the space, yet didn’t like the security aspect of the situation. So, they arranged to plant new landscaping just outside the window.
The situation looked as though the house staff was simply fixing up the place for the visit, but in reality, the new plantings created a block. The trees were removed after the President’s visit.
Ron had a variety of jobs in town as a kid. He worked at the Dixon Golf Club and spent six summers as a lifeguard where he is credited with saving 77 swimmers.
Ron went on to Eureka College where he studied economics and sociology. He was hired by a radio station to announce University of Iowa games and worked as a sports broadcaster for a variety of stations before moving to Hollywood in 1937 From there, his public career, which included being a fairly famous actor, took off.
Ron served governor of California from 1967-75 and U.S. President from 1981-89. He left office with a 68 percent approval rating. Ron spent his final years battling Alzheimer's disease, dying in 2004 in California.
Upon his 1984 trip back to town, Ron said, “My heart is still here.”