By Steve Parkhurst
So many people are documenting their thoughts about Ronald Reagan on this, his 100th birthday, so I will give in to the temptation and offer some of my memories as well.
My earliest memories of President Reagan go back to my third grade year. One of my best friends at the time (Mike M., he knows who he is) and I stood up in front of our class and each recited the 40 Presidents at the time, in order. And of course, at that time Reagan was the 40th and last President. Mike M. and I both got extra credit for doing this, and we were the only two in the entire 20-25 student class to do this.
Our third grade class wrote letters to the White House when we were studying the Presidency. Each student who mailed a letter, received a package in the mail which contained an 8×10 of President Reagan (the now infamous bust shot of Reagan with the American flag in the background), a book/magazine about the White House (a book/magazine that I still have to this day) and a letter from the President thanking us for writing and encouraging us to study further. Yes, I realize this was not a personal letter, but the 8×10 got thumb-tacked to my bedroom wall, how many third graders can say that? What can I say, I always thought President Reagan looked cool. He was the same age as my grandfather, and I thought that was cool too. My grandfather would have been 100 later this year, I’ll write about that in due time.
In 1984, my classroom did a secret ballot vote for Reagan vs. Mondale. The 22-1 defeat I suffered that day was made better when I read about the landslide victory the next morning on the front page of the San Antonio Express-News. I’ll take 49-1 across the country every time.
Finally, I remember President Reagan speaking to the country the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded. My class at the time was watching tv live when the shuttle took off, as we were studying astronomy and all the teachers in America were especially intrigued with Astronaut (and teacher) Christa McAuliffe being on that space flight. I remember President Reagan speaking to the country, and especially singling out the students of America, practically talking directly to us. Again, it was like grandpa was speaking right to me.
I was an adult when President Reagan revealed he was suffering from Alzheimers. I was living in Georgia, working on a congressional campaign, when the President died in 2004. I have been to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, three times, the first time being in 1999. I have even visited the Library there as a researcher, where I was able to look at papers from the archives. I have twice been able to stand where the President is buried, where he will forever face the sunsets in the west, when the sun drops below the mountains of Simi Valley at the end of each day.
Anyway, those are my recollections for this momentous day celebrating a momentous man.