The lifeguard from Dixon, Illinois, the sports announcer and the president was always just out of my reach. We came close to meeting each other, but never did.
This month we celebrate his 100th birthday. He wrote, “I was born February 6, 1911, in a flat above the local bank in Tampico, Illinois.” It was my privilege to hear Ronald Reagan, in a variety of venues.
I was scheduled to be on the program with him in Decatur, Illinois, when he was campaigning for the presidency. He was to speak at the large Holiday Inn, one of the world’s largest. I missed being on the same program with this dynamic and brilliant man simply because his campaign director thought it was more important for him to be somewhere else.
His beautiful and charming wife, Nancy, came to Decatur and spoke on behalf of her husband. Also on the program were Robert and Mrs. Stack, the actor who played the part of Eliot Ness on the popular television show, “The Untouchables,” about Chicago bootleggers and a Prohibition agent. The primary speaker was Illinois Congressman Phil Crane, who delivered a powerful message.
Kitty and I sat at the head table as we often did in the 25 years we lived in that beautiful and exciting city. I gave the invocation and the benediction.
The next day, Nancy Reagan, was scheduled to make an appearance at the Decatur Country Club. We were also there. On that day, the three of us walked and talked again.
I heard Reagan at the University of Illinois and other places. I was invited to meet in Washington with a number of leaders from throughout the nation. It was a smaller room, perhaps seating 100. I sat on the front row, in front of President Reagan. When he finished his speech, I could have reached out and touched him. He was inches away but I had no idea how trigger happy his bodyguards might be. In succeeding years, I met many Secret Service agents. One of their training directors became a good friend.
During his presidency, he appeared several times before National Religious Broadcasters. Kitty and I were serving as platform coordinators for NRB. After we had ushered all the platform guests in and they had taken their seats, we would enter the large ballroom where the President would speak to hundreds of delegates. As soon as Kitty and I were seated on the front row in front of the podium, the presidential seal would be put in place and the announcer would clearly and distinctly say, “And now, the President of the United States.”
At the precise moment, this handsome and energetic man would stride onto the platform. He looked and acted like the President. He spoke as if he knew what he was talking about. He conveyed confidence, intelligence, purpose and faith. After prolonged and thunderous applause, the “great communicator” would deliver a message that made you proud to be an American.
President Ronald Wilson Reagan, at age 93, died on June 5, 2004, after his “long goodbye” and struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Speaking about our Christian Heritage in 1980, he said, “The time has come to turn to God and reassert our trust in Him for the healing of America . . .” He knew the message God had delivered through King Solomon, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face . . . I will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Solomon and Reagan both called on the people to turn to God. That is exactly what we need to do today if we are to survive as a nation of strength and significance.