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Articles & Local History > Reagan in Tampico (Daily Ledger 2004)

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004 10:41 AM CDT

From Tampico to today By CHARLIE WRIGHT/For the Daily Ledger

The little town of Tampico, Ill., has 772 people in it and all of them pronounce it Tamp-e-co, with the accent on the first syllable. A native of Tampico who lives in Canton, Helen Chevillon, agrees with that. You know, the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, was born there Feb. 6, 1911. He died early this month. He was 93.

 Helen went to school there with Ruth Shaheen, the only girl in an Assyrian family. She had three brothers and all of the children went to college. You probably know Ruth's husband from his long tenure at ABC. He and Barbara Walters anchored "20/20." His name is Hugh Downs. Hugh did a feature on Tampico for ABC. I saw it and he brought out things others might have missed because of his closeness to the town.

Last week I talked to Anna Wetzel who works for the town government, and she said Ruth gets back to their class reunions. Hugh Downs retired from radio and TV, sort of. He's a professor at Arizona State University in Tempe. He teaches radio/TV journalism. I knew Ruth Shaheen's brother, Dick, who was a broker of radio and TV stations, newspapers and magazines. All of the Shaheens did so very well. A lot of important and influential people have come out of Tampico. It's a nice little town with an active historical society. You will feel right at home.

In 1980 I had the honor, as president of the Illinois Broadcasters Association, of presenting the Hall of Fame Award to Hugh Downs who worked in Illinois as a broadcaster. (That is a requirement for the award.)

Ronald Reagan was not very old when the family moved to Dixon, up the road about 25 miles. In the small stone church where the future president was baptized and taught Sunday school, the pastor told the congregation the day after Reagan's death, "the former president's life offers a lesson in community service and the power of democracy." Reagan was a good swimmer and became a lifeguard at the municipal park on the Rock River where he saved 77 swimmers during the summers he worked.

Reagan earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1932 from Eureka College, where a photographic memory aided in his studies and in debating and college theatrics. It was an easy transition for him to become sports announcer at WHO in Des Moines, doing re-creations of Chicago Cubs games. This was done with a service of Western Union direct to the studio of a subscribing station.

The Western Union operator telegraphed all the color he could plus the action on the field. The announcers were creative with the sound effects, using recordings of fans cheering in the stands. Old-timers can remember the little penny box of matches. The announcer always had an empty match box handy and, when a batter got a hit, the announcer would give a thump on the box with one finger. "It's a hit," he would say, and it sounded as if the announcer saw it with his own eyes. That's the way it was done.

It was the middle of the Depression and Reagan received $100 a week for his sports announcing. Reagan is shown with pictures at WOC and WHO microphones. WOC had 5,000 watts of power in Davenport and WHO in Des Moines had 50,000 watts. Both were owned by Col. B.J. Palmer, founder of Palmer College of Chiropractic. The call letters WOC stand for World of Chiropractic or Wonders of Chiropractic. Take your pick.

When Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th president in January 1980, Washington wasn't the only place where there were inaugural parties. Tampico had its affairs and Dixon had its festivities. Members of Dixon Elks Lodge No. 779 put the finishing touches on the decorations at their 90-year-old, brown brick lodge, "site of the presidential inaugural ball," a handmade sign out front proclaimed.

About 500 attended the event, where local dance bands performed in the "Antler" and "El Dorado" rooms and where Washington's inaugural balls were telecast and shown on a set in the "Lodge Room." The $20-a-couple Dixon dance is a far cry from the $100-a-person in Washington, but it was just as formal as the best dressed in Washington. Dixon is Reagan's hometown and everybody went full steam ahead as if Reagan were there himself.

President Reagan touched the life of someone who grew up in Canton. In 1982 he nominated Elizabeth Kovachevich in Florida as U.S. District judge for the Middle District of Florida. Reagan talked to her by telephone. She mentioned that she went to Eureka College and she was from nearby Canton. She said she knew all about the Canton Little Giants. She received confirmation by the U.S. Senate in March and was sworn in March 12, with the Investiture April 2, 1982.

In January 2003, Judge Kovachevich completed a seven-year term as chief judge of the Middle District of Florida. She continues to serve as a federal judge in Florida today.

President Reagan's flag-draped casket was at the Reagan Library in California on Wednesday, with people of all ages and social status walking past it to pay their respects. It was flown to Washington and carried on a horse-drawn caisson up Constitution Avenue before throngs of people in the Washington heat.

It was a day of dazzling brilliance. A tradition that dates back to Ghengis Khan, a riderless horse followed in the procession, with Reagan's own boots reversed in the stirrups, a token that the warrior would not ride again. Leaders of our nation, before the casket, spoke to the world and to Nancy Reagan to help bear the grief while Reagan was lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Then the entourage returned to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, where the private internment was conducted.

Ronald Reagan was a man who could talk to a little boy in tattered overalls on a street corner with his dog, and inspire him on the boy's level. He could also talk with world leaders, reason with them and convince them of his ideas. If they disagreed, he was amicable. The world is a better place because Ronald Reagan was President of the United States and Ambassador to the World. So many of his legacies are what the world needs today.

Thank you, Mr. President!

TAMPICO AREA HISTORICAL SOCIETY - MUSEUM - FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY/RESEARCH CENTER  119 Main St., P. O. Box 154,  Tampico, IL  61283   www.tampicohistoricalsociety.com   tampicoareahistory@gmail.com  We are an all-volunteer organization so your donations are always appreciated!  Sign up to receive our e-newsletter. Thank you!  Visit us on FACEBOOK.