EUREKA — Former President Ronald Reagan was remembered Wednesday on the 15th anniversary of his death as a man of integrity and humility who took the lessons he learned in Illinois to work for a better world.
Speaking at a memorial event at Eureka College, Reagan's alma mater, his eldest son Michael said, “Ronald Reagan loved America since birth. It was instilled in him in Illinois and increased in him at Eureka College.”
He said his father and mother, Jane Wyman, “taught me you have to work for the things you want in life.” He related a story of the time when a football coach called his father, offering a scholarship to play college football, and his father — who received a “needy student” scholarship to attend Eureka — told the coach to give the scholarship to someone who couldn't afford college.
Michael Reagan also touched many of those in the crowd of about 150 people with a story of how “I had never told my father I loved him until 1991.”
The younger Reagan was about to interview the former president for a radio show when he greeted his father with a hug and told his father he loved him.
Michael Reagan, imitating his father's tone of voice, recalled him replying, “Well, I love you, too.”
After that, each time the two met, the hugged each other and said, “I love you,” he said.
Even after Alzheimer's disease robbed Ronald Reagan of the ability to remember the names of his children, “he remembered I was the guy who hugged him hello and hugged him good-bye.”
Eureka College President Jamel Wright said the school's most famous alumnus “came to Eureka and found his voice and increased his confidence. … He went on to change the world and … did to with humility and integrity.”
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A reminder of his role in changing the world is in the Reagan Peace Garden, where the ceremony took place. It includes a piece of the Berlin Wall.
It was almost exactly 32 years ago that Reagan gave his famous speech in West Berlin, calling on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
Mike Murtagh, senior vice president of advancement at Eureka College, noted that Tuesday was the anniversary of the start of the Battle of Midway in 1942 and Thursday is the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Two veterans of World War II were among those in attendance Wednesday.
Carl Hirsch, who graduated from Eureka College in 1951, said Reagan's legacy is his honesty.
“That's something that we don't have today,” said Hirsch. “He was straight forward. He told it like it was.”
Fellow veteran Leo “Doc” Traister of the Class of 1948, a former student athlete and coach at Eureka for whom the college's Traister Field is named, said Reagan should be remembered for “the fact that he tried to make us feel fortunate and happy to be in this country.”