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Written Tributes Speak Volumes About State's Love for Reagan

Gov. Schwarzenegger's 'Book of Remembrance' lets former president's admirers put their feelings into history.

June 19, 2004|Arlene Martinez | Times Staff Writer

A single white sheet sat largely untouched on a counter in the lobby of Aliso Viejo City Hall. The page, bearing President Ronald Reagan's name, had by Wednesday afternoon garnered seven signatures.

The lines, flowers and balloons of earlier memorials were missing, but the messages were the same.

"Thank you for sharing a terrific and all American man with all of the United States to be proud of," wrote "An OC GOP." "Ronnie will forever remain in my heart."

When the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and museum receives the massive condolence book to be compiled by the governor's office, the words and names of residents throughout the state will be inked into history.

Cities have taken different levels of activism in participating in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Book of Remembrance," which will be compiled and bound before being presented to the library.

The 16-by-24-inch pages were sent out to all of the state's 478 cities but it was up to each city whether to participate, said Megan Taylor, spokeswoman for the League of California Cities.

Many did, if simply by offering the pages in their city halls and community centers with little publicity. A few, like Fresno, went all out.

Fresno collected more than 30 pages of signatures and notes, and a rotating crew of military veterans took turns manning the table on which the sheets lay in City Hall, said Matt Otstot, spokesman for the city.

One man posted the lyrics of an original song, "Big Bad Ron," modeled after Jimmy Dean's 1961 hit "Big Bad John."

The pages gave "folks in this area in a personal way to share their thoughts and memories of how they were feeling about a man who gave so much to this nation," said Otstot, adding that many of the signers wrote in Spanish.

Nearly two weeks after the death of the 40th president, some signs of memorial fatigue are apparent. But major cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego recorded thousands of signatures on their pages.

"Just because his funeral's been held doesn't mean people still aren't thinking of him," said Laguna Woods City Manager Leslie Keane. "Being a part of history is important to people."

Terri Carbaugh, spokeswoman for the governor's office, said the response to the project "has been overwhelming. Thousands of people have joined in."

Some city officials said the quick turnaround time limited how much outreach they could do. Many cities received their pages June 11 and pages are due back in Sacramento on June 21. Some cities lack the machines to make copies of oversized sheets, which caused a delay.

Cities including Berkeley, Oakland and Hesperia did not know of the effort. Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa put their pages out Tuesday.

Simi Valley chose not to publicize the effort, figuring that most people would prefer a trip to the nearby Reagan Library, said Laura Behjan, assistant city manager.

The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda has made available two remembrance books that have been signed by thousands of well-wishers. Remarks penned in the hundreds of pages at the library appear to be controversy-free, unlike anti-Reagan sentiments in San Jose's book, which were excised by city employees.

Reagan opponents mostly stayed away.

"I think most people have better manners than that," said John Bahorski, city manager for Seal Beach. About 60 signatures dotted Seal Beach's page, the only one the city plans to send.

Most city officials defended the rights of people to write what they wished.

"If there was anybody who seemed to not be bothered by criticism, it was Ronald Reagan," said San Jose representative Tom Manheim. "He understood there are different points of view." Manheim added that the two employees who cut out the anti-Reagan remarks were reprimanded.

Throughout Orange County, messages kept to themes of admiration and thanks.

"He was a good statesman who could speak to the people," said 70-year-old Van Nielsen at the Westminster Senior Center, where the pages showed nary a blank spot. "He took care of the country."

Mary Gallagher and her 12-year-old daughter, Rhiannon, joined the signers at the Nixon Library on Monday. Mary said: "I think [the book] will give Nancy a lot of comfort to know he and she were thought highly of."

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