Dixon remembers Reagan with plans for new statue

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Dixon, Illinois, likes to make the most of its presidential connection. It was, of course, the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan.

Now, it could soon be the site of a new lasting tribute.

Listen closely, and hear the history at Lowell Park. A vintage newspaper clip sets the stage.

"Beach guard Dutch Reagan, who has saved many from drowning at the beach this season and last, hurried to his rescue," read Dixon Mayor Jim Burke.

On warm summer days, young Ronald Reagan labored as a lifeguard. There were countless rescues from the Rock River's swirling current.

"The rescuer (Reagan) got so full of water it was necessary to send him home," Mayor Burke continued.

Dixon wants to remember those years by making plans for a new Reagan statue. Organizers need to raise $120,000 from private and corporate donors. They hope to place it by fall 2014.

"He stayed anchored," Burke said. "He always kept his roots here."

Those memories help to spark more nostalgia for Dixon's favorite son. It would be a lasting look at the lifeguard who would be president.

Back in 2004, the late Bill Thompson recalled swimming lessons with Dutch Reagan.

"Teach me to swim?" Bill asked.

"Sure, you'll be taught by a champion," Reagan responded.

They forged a friendship that lasted more than 70 years, from Lowell Park to the White House and back.

"He said, 'Point, Bill. Point those hands out there. Drag them back to your hip, clear back," Thompson recalled at the time.

Hundreds turned out four years ago to see a life-size bronze sculpture along the riverfront. It recalled Reagan's time in a Dixon parade in 1950.

"He came back to Dixon dozens of times," Burke said.

And there's another statue outside Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon. Some 7,000 visitors stop by each year. They come from all over the world to learn about the Dixon connection.

"It's possible for anybody to move on to great things," said Brandi Langner, executive director of the boyhood home and visitors center.

A core committee of Dixon residents is getting the ball rolling by meeting with artists. The big ideas need financial backing to become a reality.

It could be a chance to hear the history from the Rock River through another patriotic salute to Ronald Reagan.

For more information on donating to the project, contact Dixon Mayor Jim Burke at (815) 288-1485.