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Reagan Draws Praise for Disclosure : Alzheimer's disease: At his church and his library, people laud his candor and strength. L.A. office of support organization for the illness is flooded with calls.

November 07, 1994|NICHOLAS RICCARDI and JEFF MCDONALD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Worshipers at Ronald and Nancy Reagan's church in Bel-Air said a prayer for the former President and his family. Visitors flocked to the Reagan library near Simi Valley in unusually high numbers, talking about Reagan the man rather than his politics. And the Los Angeles office of the Alzheimer's Assn. was flooded by calls from across the country as Alzheimer's disease officially entered the national spotlight.

A day after Reagan's disclosure that he is in the early stages of the disease, people across the Southland marveled at his gutsiness in going public with his ailment.

At Bel Air Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Carolyn Crawford led worshipers in asking for divine help "so that he will show courage and continue to be an example."

The 2,000-member congregation has included the Reagans since 1965, but the couple were reported out of town and not in attendance at Sunday's services.

Congregant Wilma Sallman, 75, said she was glad Reagan had come forward with his sickness. "He's always been upfront," she said. "He tells it like it is."

Frances Moore speculated that Reagan announced his ailment "in self-defense" to fend off rumors and possible media leaks. Eventually, she noted, "the disease gives itself away."

At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, visitors remembered the former President's vitality as a public man.

"I met him about a year ago down in Century City and he was still full of one-liners," said Hal Everett, a retired salesman from Thousand Oaks who worked as a volunteer at the library for three years. "At the time he seemed to be very healthy.

"He has slowed down over the years and he doesn't come up here as much as he used to, but when I met him he was still very sharp," said Everett, 72. "I'd have voted for him again this year if he'd run."

Joseph Everson brought his friend Bjorn Sandvik of Norway to the Reagan library to see the videotape of Reagan's challenge to then-Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.

"I'm a Democrat and did not agree with him in many issues," said Everson, a religious studies professor at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. "But his place in history is secure."

Another visitor, Lee Sudman, a retired furniture salesman from Tarzana, questioned Reagan's own assessment that he was now in "the sunset of my life."

"The guy's got plenty of stamina," Sudman said. "This isn't going to kill him. He's a strong guy."

Peter Braun, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Alzheimer's Assn., said people with loved ones who have Alzheimer's disease had inundated the office with calls, spurred to ask for help by Reagan's disclosure.

He called Reagan's announcement "a transforming moment for the cause" and said he expected it to help increase awareness of the disease as well as funding for research.

The Alzheimer's Assn., Braun said, will soon begin "developing a very aggressive and impressive public relations campaign" to educate the public about Alzheimer's disease. But Sunday, he said, his office was busy dealing with media inquiries and calls.

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