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Mourning in 'Reagan Country'

Presidential library near Simi Valley serves as a lure to many, as does Santa Monica mortuary where the former leader's body is taken.

June 06, 2004|Fred Alvarez and Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writers

They converged by the hundreds Saturday, first in front of the Reagan's Bel-Air house, then at the presidential library near Simi Valley. By day's end hundreds lined the streets around the Santa Monica mortuary where former President Reagan's body was brought in a flag-draped coffin in what became an impromptu funeral procession.

Some waved flags, other wept. Mothers said they wanted their children to witness a piece of history, others said they wanted to be on hand to pay respects to the 40th president, their former California governor and to some, their hero.

"This is a very important night for all of us," said Joseli Araujo, 44, of Santa Monica, who stood outside the mortuary as helicopters hovered and Los Angeles police and Secret Service agents looked on. "His body will be here; it's an emotional time for me."

Shortly after 5 p.m. a black hearse drove slowly down the sloped driveway of the Reagan's home.

A Secret Service agent stood at attention as the casket passed, and the hearse fell into line between unmarked police and Secret Service cars for the slow, six-mile drive.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 10, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Funeral home name -- Articles Sunday through Tuesday in Section A about memorial events for Ronald Reagan referred to the Kingsley & Gates, Moller & Murphy Funeral Home. It is the Gates Kingsley & Gates Moeller Murphy Funeral Home.

When the four-car procession arrived at the Tudor-styled Kingsley & Gates, Moller & Murphy Funeral Home, nearly 400 spectators were on hand.

They dropped their garden tools, pulled dinner off the stove and delayed midday errands to grab flags and flowers to be a part of the curbside memorial.

"He was a great Christian and good president," said Girard Mollayan, 60, of Santa Monica, a Democrat-turned-Republican who voted twice for Reagan.

"He embodied the spirit of what this country stood for."

The multigenerational crowd included Laura Wallick of Torrance, who attended a rally to support troops in Iraq in the morning and later found herself explaining how Reagan had changed her life.

"He molded me and shaped my appreciation of this country," said Wallick, 33.

"He ended the Cold War. I learned about Russia because of him," adding that she minored in Russian studies in college and later traveled there.

The Martins, Anna and Elmer, both 84, spoke of Reagan as if they were friends.

"He's part of our generation and we just feel very sad," said Anna Martin, who set aside her sauteed onions and turkey burgers on the stove to join the mourners in Santa Monica. "This is history. We wanted to be part of the crowd."

Earlier, following Reagan's death, neighbors, onlookers and a dozen news crews milled outside the walls of the Bel-Air mansion, watching as friends and family members drove slowly through the wrought-iron gates. Among those gathered to watch the comings and goings was Daryn Hinton, a longtime neighbor.

"This man made Americans feel good about being Americans, and right now we need to remember that, especially in these difficult times," said Hinton, 49.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley also became a gathering point, but by midafternoon officials had closed the hilltop complex to prepare for the former president's interment at the site on Friday.

The president's body is expected to be moved to the library for public viewing Monday and Tuesday before being flown to Washington to lie in state at the nation's Capitol, according to sources close to the family. The burial site, which on a clear day provides panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Susana Mountains, was handpicked by the Reagans before the library opened in late 1991.

"This is Reagan country and it will always be Reagan country," said Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), a former Simi Valley mayor elected to Congress during Reagan's second term.

Gallegly counts among his favorite keepsakes a photo with the former president aboard Air Force One, the pair looking out the window at the unfinished library site.

The sentiment echoed loudly Saturday at the wind-swept library, where scores of mourners laid flowers and cards.

Bouquets graced a statue of the former president -- in boots and cowboy hat -- that stands at the library entrance. At the base of the road leading to the library, there were more flowers and an American flag draped over a concrete library marker.

The Adams family came from nearby Simi Valley with a clutch of handpicked roses from their garden. Angela Adams, who with her 13-year-old daughter, Ashley, laid the roses at the base of the bronze statue, said Reagan was the first president she was old enough to vote for.

"I never regretted that vote," she said. "I admired him so much."

A tearful Nancy Poletti and daughters Elizabeth and Samantha of Simi Valley rushed to the library after hearing the news and placed a bouquet of mixed flowers at the statue. "When you come and visit this museum and you learn about him, you can't help but have tears in your eyes," said Elizabeth, 15.

While residents expressed their sentiments, local leaders offered official statements.

"When President Reagan concluded his first oath of office as president, he exclaimed: 'So help me, God!' And he meant it," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said.

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