Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ronald Reagan Trail: Eureka College

Reagan Trail signs,
Ohio, IL
My Ronald Reagan Trail series continues.

"Dutch" Reagan was baptized into the Disciples of Christ denomination, his mother's faith. Eureka College was founded by abolitionists in 1855. Since it's founding it has been affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. The small college is located in the namesake town of Eureka, Illinois, which is located halfway between Peoria and Bloomington.

From Reagan's An American Life:
I was drawn to one college in particular. Ever since I could remember, one of Dixon's biggest heroes had been the husky son of one of the ministers who preceded Margaret's father at our church. After starring as a fullback on our high school team, he'd gone to Eureka College and became an even bigger celebrity there. [Margaret Cleaver was Reagan's longtime girlfriend.]
Referring to his "hero worship of that star," Garland Waggoner, "made me want to follow him to Eureka."

More...
Burrus Dickinson Hall
When I drove Margaret to Eureka that September to register for her freshman year, I saw the campus for the first time and I was bowled over. It was even lovelier than I'd imagine it would be.

There were five Georgian-style brick buildings arrange around a semicircle with windows framed in white. The buildings were covered with ivy and surrounded by acres of rolling green lawn studded with trees still rush with summer foliage.
"I knew I had to stay." He was short of funds, but Reagan convinced the school's president and head football coach to offer him a Needy Student Scholarship. A year later Reagan's older brother Neil, nicknamed Moon, enrolled at Eureka and was also a recipient of one of those scholarships. The contributors got their money's worth, Reagan of course became president, and Moon was a successful advertising executive and a radio show and television director.

Eureka probably isn't radically different from when Ronald, Class of '32, and Neil, Class of '33, attended. Pictured above is Burrus Dickinson Hall, once known as the Old Main. It's now Eureka's administration building and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Pictured below is Vennum-Binkley Hall.

Reagan acted in 14 plays at Eureka. He lettered in football, track, and swimming, he was the coach of the swimming team during his last two years. He served on the student Senate and was the president of that body  his senior year. But Dutch was a rebel too. During his freshman year, Reagan was a leader in the protest against faculty layoffs. He gave his first political speech then, one that the future president said "was as exciting as any I ever gave." And the Gipper gave some great ones.

Vennum-Binkley Hall
Reagan's football coach was Mac McKinzie, a twelve-time letterman at Eureka and the captain of his team in three sports. The football field is named for him. While Reagan was president, McKinzie was an assistant coach at Eureka. In 1985 the Chicago Tribune wrote a profile on Mac, who was 90 at the time and the oldest active coach in sports.

Once again, from An American Life:
In later life, I visited some of the most famous universities in the world. As governor of California, I presided over a university system regarded as one of the best. But if I had to do it over again, I'd go back to Eureka or another small college like it in a second.
Reagan never claimed to be a scholar--he was a C student at Eureka. The current occupant of the White House, who has a much more inflated opinion of himself, has not released his college transcripts.

McKinzie Field
Next: Reagan returns to Eureka

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2 comments:

Jim Roper said...

How far is Ohio, Ill from us?

John Ruberry said...

About 120 miles or so.