Ronald Wilson Reagan (RAY guhn) was born February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois. His father was a shoe salesman, and his mother was a homemaker and occasional sales clerk. When Reagan was a baby, his father gave him the nickname Dutch. His only brother was nicknamed Moon.
Reagan's mother loved the theater and took part in amateur productions. As a result of his mother's interest, Reagan also became interested in acting very early in his life. The family moved often looking for work until they settled in Dixon, Illinois, when Reagan was 9 years old. He finished grade school there and also attended high school where he played football and basketball as well as competed in track and swim meets. He took part in several plays and was president of the student council. He was a lifeguard during summer breaks.
Reagan entered Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois, in 1928, and he paid his college expenses with a partial scholarship, savings from his lifeguard job, and earnings from washing dishes at a fraternity house. He majored in economics and sociology. He played football, joined the track team and was swim team captain. He was in many college plays and was president of the student body.
In 1932 Reagan graduated from college and found work as a sports announcer for a radio station in Davenport, Iowa. His job was to give play-by-play accounts in major league baseball games, Big Ten football games, and other events. While on a trip to southern California in 1937 to report on the Chicago Cubs spring training session, he took a screen test for Warner Brothers, a large motion-picture studio. The studio signed him to an acting contract, and he appeared in more than 50 feature films from 1937 to 1964. He became a star and was known for his roles as a wholesome, likable young man.
Reagan joined the United States Armed Forces in 1942 to fight in World War II but was disqualified for combat because of poor eyesight. He spent most of the war in Hollywood making training films and was discharged as a captain in 1945.
Reagan served six terms of office as president of the Screen Writers Guild (SAG). He married actress Jane Wyman on January 25, 1940. The couple had one daughter and adopted a son before divorcing in 1948. He met actress Nancy Davis in 1951, and they were married on March 4, 1952. A daughter and a son were born to this couple.
Reagan, a Democrat, actively supported Republican Richard M. Nixon's campaign for President in 1960. In 1962 he switched parties and officially became a Republican. He made the comment that he "never left the Democratic Party; the party left" him. In 1966, he was successful in his campaign for governor of California and served two consecutive terms there.
Even while governor of California, Reagan looked at the nation as a whole. He was considered to be a potential presidential candidate at both the 1968 and the 1974 Republican National Conventions. He won the Republican nomination for the 1980 presidential election and named George H.W. Bush as his Vice Presidential candidate. Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter for President. He carried 44 states and 489 electoral votes to Carter's 6 states and Washington D.C. and 49 electoral votes.
When he took office as the 40th President, he became the oldest President of the United States to be elected. In 1984 he won a second term of office in a campaign against Walter Mondale. The Reagan-Bush ticket won in a landslide, winning 49 states and 525 electoral votes, the most electoral votes won by a presidential candidate. Somewhere along the line, Reagan became known as "the Gipper" and "the Great Communicator."
On March 30, 1981, in Washington, D.C., only two months after he became President of the United States, Reagan was shot in the chest in an assassination attempt by John W. Hinckley, Jr. The bullet barely missed his heart. Surgeons removed the bullet, and Reagan made a full recovery. He remains well remembered for his good humor both before and after his surgery. An example of his humor happened as he was being wheeled into the operating room when he looked at the doctors and quipped, "I hope that you are all Republicans." Three other people, including Reagan's press secretary, were shot. A jury found Hinckley insane at the time of the attack and therefore found him not guilty of the attempted murder charge. He was placed in a mental institution.
I remember the day that President Reagan was shot because it was such a shock. It brought back the terrible memories of when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I heard of the assassination attempt when my friend stopped by. She said, "We just get a good President and they shoot him!" The fact that the Pope was short just days or weeks later really concerned everyone.
Reagan spent his time as president trying to cut taxes, lessening people's dependence on government and increasing national defense, and he accomplished all three goals. He also met with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev several times and made the first major move to end the Cold War when both men agreed to jointly eliminate some of their nuclear weapons.
Reagan's health became a concern for the nation early in his second term. A cancerous tumor was found in and removed from his colon in 1985. He made a quick recovery.
The Iran-Contra Affair brought scandal to his administration when it became known that our government traded weapons for hostages. Reagan at first denied knowing about it but later apologized, calling it "a mistake." The American people loved him so much that he was totally forgiven by the people.
President and Mrs. Reagan brought elegance back to the White House, restoring much of the traditional pageantry which was ended by Jimmy Carter: Trumpeters again announced the President and First Lady and welcomed foreign guests; a color guard preceded the entrance of the presidential family and its guests of honor; military social aides accompanied members of the official party at state dinners.
When Reagan left the White House, he moved to Bel Air, California. He continued to deliver speeches in support of conservative causes. He published his autobiography, An American Life, in 1990. The next year the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library opened in Simi Valley, California. It contains documents and other items related to Reagan and his presidency.
Soon after Reagan retired, he was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, a degenerative brain disorder that causes a loss of memory and a failure of other mental abilities as well as a weaker physical condition. He decided to let the American people know of his disease rather than keep it a secret. He hoped that knowledge of his having Alzheimer's would encourage more research into a cure for the disease. He made his announcement in a hand-written open letter to the public on November 5, 1994.
Reagan's health and memory continued to deteriorate. He passed away on June 5, 2004 at the age of 93. He lived longer than any other President in United States History. The outpouring of love and respect for a fallen American leader had not been seen since the funeral for John F. Kennedy. Tens of thousands of Americans filed past his casket in separate memorials in Washington, D.C. and California. Some people waited in line for several hours in order to pay their respects.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was truly one of our greatest Presidents, totally deserving of our love and respect.
Facts and information for this post came from articles by the following people: Bill Boyarsky, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 16, pp 164-171; Alfred J. Smuskiewicz, World Book Encyclopedia Yearbook 2005, pp. 404-409; and Jennifer Rosenberg at About.com Guide.