By Lauren N. Johnson
The Illinois Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission will host a series of events throughout the state this month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Illinois native and former president's birth.
“We’re excited about the events. [Illinois] is the place he came back to time after time. During the eight years that he was president, he made 25 speeches in Chicago alone. That tells you he thought a lot about our state,” said Ann Lewis, vice chairman of the commission,
During his time in Illinois, Reagan studied economics at Eureka College, where he played football and swam competitively, in addition to other extra-curricular activities. Prior to college, Reagan rescued 77 swimmers over seven summers as a lifeguard in Dixon.
“[Reagan] brought the concept of family, faith, hard work and optimism with a can-do attitude,” said Lewis. She added, “It’s a Midwestern concept, and he brought that to the White House.”
A centennial gala is scheduled at 6 p.m. on February 4 in Deer Grove. The event will feature former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich as keynote speaker. A number of other public figures, including former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo and Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, plan to attend.
During the day, there will be a book signing with Gingrich and the premiere of the film “Rendezvous with Destiny,” a documentary on Reagan's terms as the 40th president of the United States. Earlier this week, Ronald Reagan Jr., Reagan's son, held a signing of his book, “My Father at 100.”
On February 6, Reagan’s birth date, there will be a number of birthday parties in Illinois, as well as a Sunday church service in Dixon.
Lewis said by the end of 2011, about 50 events to celebrate the centennial will have been held in Dixon, Tampico — Reagan’s birthplace — Sterling and others. Lewis said the events occurring this year will bring tourism and dollars to areas that have high unemployment in the state.
According to event organizers, tickets for remain available to the public, and the centennial events this weekend are taking place as scheduled regardless of the recent inclement weather
For more information, visit http://www.illinoisreagancentennial.com.